6-3-11: How Much Power in the War Powers Resolution?
On March 19, the United States joined European forces in a United Nations-sanctioned attack on forces loyal to Libya’s Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi.
Two days later, President Obama wrote to Congress about the military action. The letter read in part, “I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution.”
The War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973 by a two-thirds vote over a veto from President Nixon. It says a president must withdraw forces within sixty days unless Congress provides authorization. That deadline passed over a week ago for President Obama.
The resolution gives the president an extra 30 days if the he writes again citing “unavoidable military necessity” in continuing the action. That deadline comes in less than three weeks.
A bi-partisan group of senators drafted a resolution supporting the Libya action, but it doesn’t mention the War Powers Resolution. The president wrote to Congress supporting that resolution. He also failed to mention it.
Things may come to a head today in Congress. House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, has a resolution that would demand that President Obama report to Congress within two weeks on our activities and objectives in Libya. That’s likely to get a vote, as is Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich’s measure to pull troops within 15 days.
Two other Republican measures invoke the War Powers Resolution: one expresses disapproval, one says the U.S. must withdraw from Libya by June 19 if Congress doesn’t approve our presence. Those two measures are not scheduled for a vote.
What does this all mean for the legality of our action in Libya? And what does it mean for the future of Congress’s power over military actions?
Sheilah talks about role of the 1973 War Powers Resolution in the U.S. Armed Force’s Libya action with Charles Stevenson, adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of Congress At War: The Politics of Conflict Since 1789.
We some contacted some members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation to ask how they feel about the War Powers Resolution.
In March, Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland’s 1st Congressional District said, “I’ve been researching the War Powers Act. The president has to have a constitutional reason to do it and report back to Congress…I feel like the president’s authority has been stretched in Libya.”
We reached out to Congressman Harris yesterday morning to follow up, but we didn’t hear back.
We also reached out yesterday to Democrat Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip and representative of Maryland’s 5th District. When his colleague Dennis Kucinich proposed withdrawing U.S. forces, Hoyer spoke up in opposition, saying it would send NATO the message that we don’t support them. Congressman Hoyer’s spokesperson Maureen Beach told us yesterday that his views on the issue have not changed.
We also contacted the offices of 2nd District Democrat Dutch Ruppersburger and 6th district Republican Roscoe Bartlett. Bartlett did not respond by airtime, and Ruppersburger wasn’t available until after our interview with Charles Stevenson aired.