War Powers Debate Heating Up Amid Tensions With Iran, Venezuela
Do you support efforts by Congress to limit the executive branch's war powers?
by Countable | 5.10.19
Between the ongoing crisis in Venezuela and tensions with Iran rising over its nuclear program and threats of attacks against the U.S. or its allies, there is increasing concern that the disputes could escalate into an intervention by the U.S. military. But a pair of bills in Congress now would take the “military option” off the table in those cases, setting up a potential constitutional debate over war powers.
Here’s a look at the two bills, both of which aim to block the president from using the War Powers Resolution to take military action without prior approval from Congress:
- The Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act (H.R. 1004) would prohibit the use of funds to use military force in Venezuela unless it’s authorized by Congress. It’s sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and has 71 cosponsors, all but two of whom are Democrats.
- The Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019 (S. 1039) would also ban the use of funds to undertake military action against Iran, although it’d contain exceptions to allow for a response to an imminent threat, to repel an attack, or to rescue Americans. It’s sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and has the support of 11 senators who caucus as Democrats, including presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), plus Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
What is the War Powers Resolution?
Enacted in 1973 through an override of President Richard Nixon’s veto, the War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress of military action within 48 hours and allows the commitment of the military for up to 60 days, followed by a 30 day withdrawal period unless Congress authorizes further action.
If Congress authorizes military action through either a formal declaration of war or an authorization for use of military force (AUMF), then the administration is required to report to Congress at elast every six months about the status, scope, and duration of the conflict.
There has never been a constitutional challenge to the War Powers Resolution through the judiciary, but while its constitutionality may come under scrutiny at some point in the future it has been put to use several times in recent decades:
- In 1993, the War Powers Resolution was successfully used by Congress to withdraw U.S. forces from Somalia following the Battle of Mogadishu, which was detailed by Black Hawk Down.
- In 1999, Congress unsuccessfully tried to end the Clinton administration’s intervention in Kosovo.
- In 2011, the House passed a non-binding resolution to rebuke the Obama administration for arguing that the War Powers Resolution didn’t apply its intervention in Libya because it didn’t fit the definition of “hostility” and that it was technically NATO leading the intervention.
- In 2019, President Donald Trump vetoed a bill that tried to use the War Powers Resolution to require the withdrawal of U.S. forces providing refueling assistance to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. The Trump administration also argued that the U.S. wasn't engaged in hostilities, and the veto was subsequently upheld in an override vote).
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / guvendemir)
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