Commentary: Congress needs to reclaim authority on military action

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published: 2/14/2020 6:00:34 AM
Modified: 2/14/2020 6:00:22 AM

Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R.-Ky., expressed grave disappointment with the answers they received when they questioned the Trump administration’s rationale for last month’s attack that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Lee was so upset that he was prepared to support a resolution offered by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., saying that authorizations to use military force passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002 do not justify further military action against Iran.

Unfortunately, the House went first, passing both a repeal of Congress’s 2002 authorization that preceded President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and a measure that would deny funding for further military action against Iran without congressional approval. It’s unfortunate because those votes late last month were mostly along party lines, with only 11 Republicans supporting the first and only four supporting the second.

Growing the backbone to reclaim Congress’s constitutional power to declare war should not be a partisan issue. And it is not.

On CNN last month, Lee explained the premise of Kaine’s proposal: If the president wants to take further military action against Iran following the attack that killed Gen. Soleimani, he needs an authorization to use military force or a declaration of war by Congress. The resolution would insist upon it.

Congress’s 2002 authorization votes, which the public at the time understood to be about an Iraq then led by Saddam Hussein, have since been used to justify military actions in Syria by President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump. And the authorization was initially cited in support of the strike that killed Gen. Soleimani, although the Trump administration has since walked that back, citing self-defense under international law and the president’s constitutional role as commander in chief.

While the president appears likely to veto anything he sees as encroaching on his ability to defend the nation and its military, the Senate should pass the Kaine resolution. It should do so on an overwhelming and bipartisan vote, and the House should then pass that resolution. Limited to Iran, it would be a baby step toward Congress reclaiming its war powers under the Constitution, but it would be a step in the right direction.




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