On the cusp of intensified airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, President Barack Obama is using the legal grounding of the congressional authorizations President George W. Bush relied on more than a decade ago to go to war. But Obama has made no effort to ask Congress to explicitly authorize his own conflict.
The White House said again Friday that Bush-era congressional authorizations for the war on al-Qaida and the Iraq invasion give Obama authority to act without new approval by Congress under the 1973 War Powers Act. That law, passed during the Vietnam War, serves as a constitutional check on presidential power to declare war without congressional consent. It requires presidents to notify Congress within 48 hours of military action and limits the use of military forces to no more than 60 days unless Congress authorizes force or declares war.
“It is the view of this administration and the president’s national security team specifically that additional authorization from Congress is not required, that he has the authority that he needs to order the military actions,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. He said there were no plans to seek consent from Congress. “At this point we have not, and I don’t know of any plan to do so at this point,” he said.
The administration’s tightly crafted legal strategy has short-circuited the congressional oversight that Obama once championed. The White House’s use of post-9/11 congressional force authorizations for the broadening air war has generated a chorus of criticism that the justifications are, at best, a legal stretch.
“Committing American lives to war is such a serious question, it should not be left to one person to decide, even if it’s the president,” said former Illinois Rep. Paul Findley, 92, who helped write the War Powers Act.
As a U.S. senator from Illinois running for president in 2007, Obama tried to prevent Bush’s administration from taking any military action against Iran unless it was explicitly authorized by Congress. A Senate resolution Obama sponsored died in committee.