Pardon a second Libya item in today’s edition, but this is the second “Say what?” moment of the day: “The White House would forge ahead with military action in Libya even if Congress passed a resolution constraining the mission, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a classified briefing to House members Wednesday afternoon. Clinton was responding to a question from Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) about the administration’s response to any effort by Congress to exercise its war powers, according to a senior Republican lawmaker who attended the briefing. The answer surprised many in the room because Clinton plainly admitted the administration would ignore any and all attempts by Congress to shackle President Obama’s power as commander in chief to make military and wartime decisions. In doing so, he would follow a long line of Presidents who have ignored the act since its passage, deeming it an unconstitutional encroachment on executive power.”
All statements from Barack Obama come with an expir–okay, no, really, this one is out there. In an earlier edition of the Jolt, I had speculated how our Constitutional Law Lecturer/Munificient Sun-God would respond if the military operation he launched had specifically not been authorized by Congress, and in fact Congress rejected the authorization. Apparently he would tell Congress to go pound sand (which is apparently the preferred military tactic of our new allies in the rebellion).
This is enough to spur impeachment talk from . . . er . . . Andrew Sullivan: “If the Obama administration is refusing even to abide by the War Powers Act, then the Congress really needs to vote to defund their adventurism at least or impeach them if it comes to that. Going to war outside even the War Powers Act qualifies as an impeachable offense, it seems to me.”
This is one of those moments where I’m interested in reading Daniel Larison: “This is an outrageous statement, but it’s entirely consistent with what the administration has been illegally doing for the last 12 days. They seem to believe quite seriously that, as long as they don’t call it a war, it doesn’t fall under any laws regulating war powers or the Constitution. The sliver of good news in all of this is that Obama and his officials are showing such contempt for American law and institutions that they are exposing themselves to a serious political backlash. War supporters won’t be able to hide behind the conceit that the war is legal. As far as U.S. law is concerned, it has never been legal, and only people making the most maximalist claims of inherent executive power can believe otherwise.”
If you had asked me before all this Libya mess if a president has the authority to launch military strikes against another state without consulting Congress, I would argue that it is Constitutional but unwise; the bigger and more consequential the military action is, the more unwise it becomes to not get Congress to sign on. I also would have argued that impeachment could be a legitimate response to a president who used his authority as commander-in-chief in a reckless manner. In other words, a president can ignore Congress, but only if he’s willing to risk his presidency over the matter. I can imagine a scenario in which military action is necessary for the security of the country but supremely unpopular with the public and Congress, and the president would need the freedom to do what is needed; similarly, I can imagine a scenario in which a president could strike a target for the most unverified or frivolous of reasons (COUGHsudaneseaspirinfactoryCOUGH).
Obama would never be impeached by this Congress, of course. But his willingness to blow off lawmakers who would probably back him anyway is pretty stunning.