They’re right. Congress must vote on Trump’s war. Just ask Trump himself. In August 2013, when the Obama administration was debating whether to respond militarily to another chemical weapons attack at the time, Trump said: “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria — big mistake if he does not!”
Trump, too, was correct. Barack Obama did seek congressional authorization, which he did not get, and he ultimately shelved the plan. According to Mark Landler’s excellent book on the Obama years, when he went to Congress, Obama was already having second thoughts about attacking Syria but decided that getting congressional buy-in was important in case he needed Congress’s backing in future Middle East crises.
Still, Obama’s overall record on this front was not good. As a number of people argued — your humble blogger included — it was a big failing on Obama’s part to delay seeking authorization for the war against the Islamic State, and his argument that the war on the Islamic State was justified by Congress’s 2001 authorization of retaliation for the 9/11 attacks was deeply absurd. It was also a bipartisan failure on Congress’s part not to step up and vote on authorization against the Islamic State.
So Trump was on the right side of the argument over the need for Congress to authorize war on Syria in 2013. But now he isn’t following his own advice, and some are already criticizing the strikes as illegal. In a statement sent my way, Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, says:
The use of chemical weapons against civilians is horrific, but the fact is that President Trump’s military action violates the Constitution and U.S. treaty obligations under the U.N. charter. There’s no legitimate domestic or international law basis for it, and it’s telling that the administration hasn’t even tried to provide one.
The Trump administration disagrees. Josh Rogin reports that the Trump administration is circulating documents that “invoke Article 2 of the Constitution as its legal justification for the strikes, asserting that the president has the power to defend the U.S. national interest,” which includes “promoting regional stability, which the use of chemical weapons threatens.”
But regardless, none of this absolves Congress from the obligation to exercise its constitutional duty to vote to authorize military action. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has issued a statement in support of Trump’s action that says nothing about any vote, except this: “I look forward to the administration further engaging Congress in this effort.” Yeah, and then what? Will you hold a vote on it?
Americans deserve to see their representatives in Congress hold a full debate and vote on any further action. Mere statements don’t require any meaningful buy-in, which should be demanded of decisions with such great consequence. The strike raises a host of questions about what comes next. Among them: What are the nature and scope of our ultimate goal in Syria? What will constitute “success” on the part of whatever our mission is, or turns out to be? Will Trump seek to expand our role in a civil war that seems to offer only horrific options and choices? Now that Trump’s own rationale for the strike is that Syrian civilians have been victimized — last night he alluded to the “beautiful babies” who had been “cruelly murdered” — will he rethink his efforts to ban Syrian refugees?
Congress should hold a full debate on all of this, not just because so doing would assist in refining lawmakers’ thinking — and, hopefully, the administration’s as well — on this whole affair, but also because it might inform the public more deeply about it. To be sure, the willful, craven abdication of responsibility on the part of Congress to exercise influence over military decisions, which has allowed the steady normalization of unilateral war-making by presidents to proceed apace, is a story that stretches back decades, and complicity in this sorry history has been bipartisan. But here is yet another chance to get it right.
* TRUMP REPEATEDLY URGED OBAMA NOT TO STRIKE SYRIA: CNN has a good roundup of all the times Trump blasted the idea of bombing Syria when Barack Obama was president. CNN adds:
There is a difference, though, in what Trump knows now and what he knew then. The President is now briefed on all the information the United States has about the Syrian civil war, something he did not have as a private citizen with a Twitter account.
I guess this means Trump is finally taking what intelligence services are telling him seriously?
* TIME TO RETHINK THE REFUGEE BAN? Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) makes a good argument here:
It will be interesting to see whether Trump — not to mention congressional Republicans who have supported him on this — rethinks his refugee ban, in light of his new urgency to punish Syria for its treatment of its own people.
* BANNON UNDER FIRE INSIDE WHITE HOUSE: The Post has a deep dive into Stephen K. Bannon’s travails inside the White House, where he appears to be at war with Jared Kushner and is taking the blame for letting down the Big Man:
Fairly or unfairly, Bannon has borne the blame for several specific policy and political failures, including the scattershot drafting and implementation of Trump’s first travel ban and the strategy and approach to dealing with the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which helped tank the Republican health-care bill by failing to support it … But the ultimate argument against him, said one person with knowledge of the situation, is that “Bannon isn’t making ‘Dad’ look good.”
Never mind the fact that he pushed policies that would enact an enormous toll on untold numbers of people. Making Trump look bad is obviously the most serious transgression of all.
* A WHITE HOUSE SHAKEUP? Axios reports on the raging internal White House war:
Trump is considering a broad shakeup of his White House that could include the replacement of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the departure of … Bannon, aides and advisers tell us … The top aide — along with many other Trump officials, advisers and friends — told us that it seems to be more a question of “when” not “whether” change will come: “The tension, the exhaustion, the raw nerves have gotten much harder to disguise.”
The “fine-tuned machine” is humming along.
* WHITE HOUSE FURIOUS OVER HEALTH-CARE FIASCO: Politico reports House GOP leaders are balking under the pressure that the White House is applying on them to pass a repeal-and-replace bill:
The back-and-forth has strained relations between the White House and Hill Republicans. Multiple sources told POLIITCO that administration aides are under intense pressure to help the House deliver on one of Trump’s top campaign promises — and many are fretting that their jobs will be in jeopardy if it doesn’t happen. That’s why White House officials are taking out their frustration on House leaders, urging them to pass something — anything.
“Something — anything.” It doesn’t matter what — just give Trump the “win” of being able to claim he wiped out his weak loser predecessor’s signature domestic achievement.
* REPUBLICANS HEAD HOME WITH NO REAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS: The Hill reports that Republicans are going home to recess with nothing real to show for it, and some lawmakers worry that voters will be furious over the failure of repeal:
Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a member of the GOP whip team, predicted lawmakers would hear from constituents demanding to know why they couldn’t fulfill a key campaign promise … GOP lawmakers appear badly divided over how to move forward on healthcare. And they are also divided over other Trump priorities, including tax reform, an infrastructure package and building a wall on the Mexican border.
One imagines they might also hear from a few voters who are telling them that they’d better not revive that turkey of a health bill.
* REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO SAVE GEORGIA SEAT: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Republicans are running new attack ads against Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate who has a real chance of winning the April 18 special election in the Atlanta suburbs. Outside GOP groups are pumping increasing sums into the race.
The new urgency reflects the fact that Ossoff has raised a stunning $8 million for the race, which in turn reflects energy on the Democratic side that bodes well for the 2018 midterms.
* AND THE WHITE HOUSE DISSEMBLE OF THE DAY: Trump vowed not to cut entitlements. But now White House budget director Mick Mulvaney is suggesting a way to cut Social Security: Target its disability benefits, which he now says are “very wasteful.” Michelle Ye Hee Lee examines the claim:
Is it a “very wasteful program”? The OMB pointed to improper disability payments, which can result from mistakes or incorrect information from either the Social Security Administration or from the beneficiary. In fiscal 2011-2015, there were $6.6 billion in overpayments and $1.5 billion in underpayments — but they represented 0.99 percent and 0.22 percent of total disability outlays, respectively, so it’s a stretch to use these figures to say the program is “very wasteful.”
As always, the eternal vow to cut “waste, fraud and abuse” turns out to be nonsense.