A necessary factor in the extraordinary growth of the Imperial Presidency over the last 60 years has been a compliant Legislative Branch. With the exception of the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, Congress has provided weak resistance at best and active complicity at worst to the ever-expanding powers of the Executive Branch. Could this trend be changing? Could the budget crisis combined with a war-weary public lead an awakened Congress to reassert its constitutional powers? Three stories this week show that the Legislative Branch is finally starting to push back against Executive overreach.
In each case, President Obama has faced resistance from both parties.
The president’s speech on the Middle East and Israeli/Palestinian Peace talks, which I supported, provided the most dramatic instance of congressional resistance. There was, of course, the spectacle of both houses of Congress giving Prime Minister Netanyahu, fresh off of his public rebuke of Obama, more standing ovations than the president received at his State of the Union. In addition, the president received pointed criticism from his own party, including the dressing down that Senate Majority Leader Reid gave to the president at the AIPAC conference.
While the New York Times is reporting that “President Obama has subtly shifted Washington’s public explanation of its goals in Libya, declaring now that he wants to assure the Libyan people are 'finally free of 40 years of tyranny' at the hands of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, after first stating he wanted to protect civilians from massacres.”, one of the leading voices in foreign policy among Democrats, Senator Jim Webb, is asking hard questions about the president’s decision making in Libya.
“We still have not severed diplomatic relations with the Gadhafi government against which we are participating in the use of military force...I find that extremely odd. The second concern that I have is with respect to the precedent for the unilateral decision by a president of the United States to use force in an environment where, to summarize, we were not under attack, we were not under a threat of an attack, we were not implementing a treaty, we were not rescuing American citizens, we were not responding directly to an incident… I find it really troubling--particularly now two months later--that a unilateral decision by a president of the United States in an environment where these other factors were not present could set a very disturbing precedent for how decisions are made for the use of force.”
A significant vote took place Thursday in the House where an amendment “that would have required the Obama administration to provide a plan and time frame for an accelerated draw down of military operations in Afghanistan” fell just short of passage, 215-204.
This quote from the Daily Kos nails the signficance of this vote: "It would have been a shocker if it had passed. But with 26 Republicans joining all but eight Democrats…it's clear that Congress is growing ever more fed-up with U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan."
Politico expands on this story with news of growing pressure from House Democrats, including some moderates, on President Obama to accelerate withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In all of these cases, President Obama would do well to recall Senator Obama, who once 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…History has shown us time and again…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.
While all of this Legislative Branch resistance was sorely missing under President Bush, it is good to see it nonetheless.