Many in Congress are increasingly angry that President Obama didn't seek their authorization for airstrikes in Libya. They count as an act of war, which is supposed to be Congress's turf. As a presidential candidate in 2007, Obama said, “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.” A liberal congressman pointed to that statement during a conference call with colleagues, saying "I agree with candidate Obama." And it's not just liberals who feel that way. NBC News reports that it's "very hard to find a member of Congress completely supportive of the Obama administration's handling of Libya. And judging by the slowness of the administration pushback against the Congressional critics, it's safe to say, they underestimated the issue." Dennis Kucinich has been one of the more vocal critics, even calling the strikes an "impeachable offense."
Why is everyone so mad? Because lawmakers, like everyone else, have war fatigue, NBC says. Also, lawmakers really don't like being left out of the loop. (Obama sent a letter to Congress notifying it that America had joined a war--two days after bombing started.) And as Robert Stacy McCain points out at the American Spectator, a lot of liberals thought Obama would restore pre-9/11 norms--Obama has held onto many Bush-era policies most hated by the left: Guantanamo Bay, secret wiretaps, the Patriot Act, etc. The controversy also shows, though, just how hard it is for presidents to give up new powers claimed by predecessors.
In 1950, President Truman bypassed Congress to start the war in Korea, claiming he had the authority to do so because the relatively-new United Nations had sanctioned the action. Though controversial at the time, The New York Times' Charlie Savage reports that over the past 60 years, Truman's actions have become the norm. "Most legal scholars agree that the nation’s founders intended to separate the power to decide to initiate a war from the power to carry it out," Savage reports. But presidents of both parties have ignored that since Korea. "The divergence between presidential practice for the past 60 years and the text and history of the Constitution makes it hard to say whether such action is lawful, scholars say."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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