When to Wage War Transcends Partisan Passion

Transpartisan Note #68

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Congressmen Walter Jones (R-NC), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) want to block American involvement in the civil war in Yemen—unless Congress ratifies it through amending the War Powers Act of 1973.

The resolution introduced October 11 and co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans, follows an April 10 letter to President Trump from 55 members of Congress and an April 28 Letter from 46 house members to Speaker Paul Ryan demanding—from Democrats and Republicans—Congressional approval before ordering military action.

The letter to the President says that engaging our military in Yemen ‘without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers clearly delineated in the Constitution.’  The Speaker’s letter says that before the nation commits its forces to battle, Congress must hold ‘a debate and vote on whether to authorize any future military action.’

‘The United States has been combating growing global threats with the same Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) since 2003.  With American forces engaged against ISIS in Syria, a debate in Congress about the use of force against that enemy in that theatre is long overdue,’ Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) said.

‘The Constitution is clear: Congress has a responsibility to debate and vote on matters of war and peace.  The American people deserve better than a Congress that abdicates this sacred responsibility,’ said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).

H.Con.Res.81 – Directing the President pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution to remove United States Armed Forces from unauthorized hostilities in the Republic of Yemen, the 115th Congress (2017-2018) offers the transpartisan American majority a chance to influence events.

Whichever way the vote goes, if there is a vote, the issue will not go away.  Whether the proposal passes or not, issues will remain (what action becomes a ‘war’?), to be contested in the courts, the ballot box, or informal negotiation between the Oval Office and The Hill.  The war powers debate calls for and offers Transpartisan involvement.

Larger issues may in fact arise as the idiosyncratic maneuvers of this President, who demands action from Congress while seeming at the same time to ignore it, pushes Congress to move beyond partisan paralysis and unite to re-establish its authority behind new transpartisan cooperation.

Michael Ostrolenk, TTR advisor and longtime Transpartisan colleague, co-authored an important article on the War Powers debate, “Congress Faces A Crucial Test On War Powers” at The Hill 10/15/17.

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