The House of Representatives, on Wednesday, blocked a resolution that would have required President Barack Obama to remove all United States armed forces operating in Iraq and Syria by the end of the year, at the latest.
It’s clear that the framers of the Constitution intended authorization or declarations of war come from Congress, rather than presidents. Article I, Section 8 of the nation’s foundational document, which lists the limited powers of the legislative branch, makes this quite clear.
The framers knew unchecked power in the hands of a president was dangerous. In Pacificus-Helvidius debate with Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote: “In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man; not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.”
H. Con. Res. 55 – introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and cosponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Walter Jones, R-N.C. – would have required President Obama, under Section 5 of the War Powers Resolution, to remove American troops in Iraq and Syria absent an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
In late May, McGovern and Jones sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to remind him of comments he gave to The New York Times late last summer. “Doing this with a whole group of members who are on their way out the door, I don’t think that is the right way to handle this,” said Boehner, who added that the issue should be discussed early in the new Congress, which came into session in January. President Obama asked for an AUMF in February.
“Since then, the House has failed to act on the President’s request [for an AUMF against ISIL], or any alternative,” McGovern and Jones wrote to Boehner. “No AUMF bill has been marked up in committee or debated on the House floor. As a result, the House has failed to asset its proper constitutional authority over declaring and authorizing war.”
Some Republicans have suggested that President Obama doesn’t necessarily need an AUMF to fight ISIL. Instead, they say, he can rely on the War Powers Resolution. This notion, however, is woefully inaccurate. Section 2 of the War Powers Resolution places limitations on executive branch, requiring a formal declaration of war, statutory authorization, or a national emergency due to an attack on the United States.
The proposed resolution found bipartisan support. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., for example, urged the House to act.
“Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress, not the President, the power to declare war,” Massie said from the House floor. “War requires congressional authorization, and the American people deserve open debate by their elected officials.”
“If we are to send our brave young men and women into harm’s way overseas, then Congress must honor the Constitution, declare war, and fight to win. Anything else is illegal, unconstitutional, and likely to lead to horrific unintended consequences,” he added.
In the end, the House failed to meet its constitutional obligation. H. Con. Res. 55 failed by a vote of 139 to 288, meaning that an authorized war against ISIL will continue for as long as…well, who knows.