A Resolution to Impeach Is Ready If Obama Goes to War Without Congress

Rep. Walter Jones, the Republican congressman who introduced it last week, hopes it will help keep the U.S. military out of Syria.

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When President Obama involved American forces in Libya without Congressional approval, violating the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, sued him. "The president is not a king. He was elected by the people, just like the House and Senate," he said. "I think he is absolutely off-base. I think that is an abuse of power, and that's why we're going to the courts." Despite voting for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rep. Jones turned anti-war while President Bush was still in office, and having so far failed to stop President Obama from fighting undeclared wars, he is now attempting a new strategy: the threat of impeachment.

Last week, after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the Obama Administration would seek international permission -- but not necessarily Congressional permission -- before taking action in Syria, Jones submitted to the Committee on the Judiciary the following resolution:

It is the sense of Congress that, except in response to an actual or imminent attack against the territory of the United States, the use of offensive military force by a President without prior and clear authorization of an Act of Congress violates Congress's exclusive power to declare war under article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution and therefore constitutes an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor under article II, section 4 of the Constitution.

At present, the resolution doesn't have much chance at passing, which is how the Obama Administration likes it. But it wasn't so long ago that its highest-ranking officials thought differently.

Here's Obama back before he was president:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

Here's Joe Biden before he was vice president:

Congress's responsibilities could not be clearer. Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution grants to Congress the power "to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal and to make rules concerning captures on land and water." To the President, the Constitution provides in Article II, Section 2 the role of "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States."

It may fairly be said that, with regard to many constitutional provisions, the Framers' intent was ambiguous. But on the war power, both the contemporaneous evidence and the early construction of these clauses do not leave much room for doubt.

And here's Hillary Clinton before she was Secretary of State:

If the country is under truly imminent threat of attack, of course the President must take appropriate action to defend us. At the same time, the Constitution requires Congress to authorize war. I do not believe that the President can take military action -- including any kind of strategic bombing -- against Iran without congressional authorization. That is why I have supported legislation to bar President Bush from doing so and that is also why I think it is irresponsible to suggest, as some have recently, that anything Congress already has enacted provides that authority.

Here is Panetta last week, articulating a position striking in its contrast:

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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