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  War Powers Act Timeline

Line   Dec. 7 – Attack on Pearl Harbor, which leads to U.S. engagement in World War II. During the war, President Franklin Roosevelt wields great, unchecked power. The slogan "politics stops at the water's edge" represented new bipartisanship in foreign policy.

Line   Aug. 7 – Congress passes Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in response to reports that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked U.S. vessels. The resolution allows for the defense of U.S. forces and allies, and is used by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and later Richard M. Nixon to permit military action in Southeast Asia, despite a divided Congress. The resolution is repealed in 1970.

Line   Nov. 7 – Creation of the War Powers Act. Despite a veto by President Nixon, the Resolution passes Congress and is made law. Under the resolution, the president must notify Congress when he sends troops into areas where "imminent" hostilities are likely, and withdraw the troops within 60 days unless Congress declares war, authorizes the operation or extends the deadline.


May – The U.S. cargo ship Mayaguez is captured by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge. President Gerald R. Ford sends in U.S. troops to retake the ship and rescue its crew. Ford complies with the War Powers Act with limited but rapid military action against Cambodia, which he reports to Congress.


May – The Reagan Administration decides against invoking War Powers Act in escorting Kuwaiti tankers under American flags during the Iraq-Iran war. By not invoking the Act, Reagan circumvents formally alerting Congress of the operation, also escaping the law's requirement that military action cease 60 days after reporting to Congress. Reagan maintains that the operation did not require use of the War Powers Act, despite heavy congressional pressure to yield to the Act. The Senate eventually votes down a motion to invoke the Act on the operation.


Aug. 10 – President George Bush formally informs Congress that troops have been stationed in Saudi Arabia, but does not invoke the War Powers Act, thus preventing a 60-day countdown prescribed by the Act. Bush is criticized for his loose interpretation of the law as troops overstay 60 days without formal congressional support.


November – House Republicans invoke War Powers Act as means to force an early removal of troops from Somalia. Democrats argue that removal of troops would cause Clinton to lose face and hamper efforts to recruit international replacements. Republicans counter that American lives are the top consideration, particularly after 18 Americans die in a firefight in October.


June 7 – House of Representatives votes to retain the War Powers Act, defeating a Republican move to repeal the act. Republican motivation for the repeal is a stronger presidency, while the Democratic minority argue that Congress must be involved in the decision to send U.S. forces abroad.

October – President Clinton struggles with Congress to assert his executive authority in committing troops to Bosnia for a peacekeeping mission. Invoking the War Powers Act, Clinton reminds Congress that the War Powers Act permits him to commit troops abroad without congressional approval, but pledges to request an expression of support by Congress after the peace accord in Bosnia was reached.

Line   March – The Clinton administration and Congress again spar over the president's obligations to Congress under the War Powers Act as airstrikes continue against Serbian forces in Yugoslavia.

Line   Sept. 11 – Terrorist members of al Qaeda attack the World Trade Center and Pentagon, compelling President George W. Bush to send troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan.

November – The Bush administration announces vast cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, propose reorganizing the Immigration and Naturalization and sign an order allowing terrorists to be tried in military tribunals, all without Congressional approval. The Bush administration maintains that presidential powers naturally swell in times of crisis - inflating Bush's "dominance over American government exceeding that of other post-Watergate presidents and rivaling even Franklin D. Roosevelt's command," according to a Nov. 20, 2001, Washington Post article by Dana Milbank.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company


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