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“Boehner Still Can’t Get His Act Together On ISIS”: A House Speaker Who Keeps Expecting Everyone Else To Work Except Him

It’s been nine months since President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East. It’s been five months since the president publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission. It’s been four months since Obama used his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act. It’s been three months since the White House, at Congress’ insistence, provided draft legislative language to lawmakers.

But as The Hill reported this afternoon, House Republicans – who support the administration’s military offensive – still aren’t prepared to do any actual work.

President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.

“The president’s request for Authorization of Use of Military Force calls for less authority than he has today. Given the fight that we’re in, it’s irresponsible,” Boehner told reporters after huddling with his rank-and-file members. Boehner said the president should withdraw the AUMF and “start over.”

It’s important to understand the nuances of Boehner’s whining on this issue. For quite a while, the Speaker said the legislative branch wouldn’t even try to authorize the war unless the executive branch did lawmakers’ work for them – Congress simply would not write its own bill, Boehner said, so it was up to the president to do the legislative work for the legislators.

Obama eventually agreed to write a bill for those whose job it is to write bills, only to discover that Congress doesn’t like his bill. The sensible, mature next move seems fairly obvious: if lawmakers don’t like the resolution the White House wrote, Congress can try writing its own version, agreed upon by lawmakers, and then voted on by lawmakers.

As of this morning, however, Boehner says he doesn’t want to. He wants the president to imagine what might make Republicans happy, then write another draft, at which point GOP leaders will let the West Wing know whether or not Congress is satisfied. If Boehner disapproves, presumably it’d be up to Obama to come up with a third.

This is quickly becoming a national embarrassment.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the war, in effect, started nine months ago. Congress has a constitutional obligation to authorize the mission, but instead we have a House Speaker who keeps expecting everyone else to work except him.

I can appreciate the fact that this is not simply a matter of laziness. There are, as we’ve discussed before, significant policy disagreements – between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate – that are tough to resolve. Some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough. Working out a resolution would be hard.

But here’s the fact that Boehner and his cohorts don’t seem to understand: it’s supposed to be hard. When lawmakers authorize the nation to launch a military offensive abroad, it’s difficult by design.

The Speaker, however, hopes to pass the buck, suggesting somehow it’s the White House’s job to write bills for Congress, and if Congress doesn’t like the president’s version, then Capitol Hill will just ignore the issue altogether. In effect, Boehner’s argument is that an ongoing war can just continue – indefinitely – no matter the cost or scope of the mission, and federal lawmakers are prepared to do literally no work whatsoever.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said today, “We may go down in history as the Congress that largely gave up its role in the war-making process.”

The irony, of course, is extraordinary. For years, Boehner and other GOP leaders have complained that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant, hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and amassing excessive power in the executive. And yet, here we are, with the president pushing Congress to authorize a war that’s already started, and a Speaker content to sit on his hands.

Making matters worse, the more Obama tries to find a peaceful solution with Iran, the more Congress tries to intervene to derail the administration’s efforts. The more Obama wages war against ISIS, the less work Congress is inclined to do.

“It matters a great deal to the institution of the Congress what we do because future presidents are going to look back at this and they’re going to say ‘We can make war without a congressional vote,’” Schiff added. “It will have deep impact on our institutional role and our ability to serve as a meaningful check and balance on presidents’ ability to make war.”

Finally, evidence of Boehner’s legacy comes into focus.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 19, 2015

May 20, 2015 Posted by | Congress, ISIS, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congress, Be Careful What You Wish For”: For Far Too Many Lawmakers, It’s So Much Easier To Criticize Than Govern

The funny thing about a dog that chases a car? Sometimes it catches the car and has no idea what to do next.

Over the last several days, members of Congress have spoken out with a variety of opinions about U.S. policy towards Syria, but lawmakers were in broad agreement about one thing: they wanted President Obama to engage Congress on the use of military force. Few expected the White House to take the requests too seriously.

Why not? Because over the last several decades, presidents in both parties have increasingly consolidated authority over national security matters, tilting practically all power over the use of force towards the Oval Office and away from the legislative branch. Whereas the Constitution and the War Powers Act intended to serve as checks on presidential authority on military intervention abroad, there’s been a gradual (ahem) drift away from these institutional norms.

That is, until this afternoon, when President Obama stunned everyone, announcing his decision to seek “authorization” from a co-equal branch of government.

It’s one of those terrific examples of good politics and good policy. On the former, the American public clearly endorses the idea of Congress giving its approval before military strikes begin. On the latter, at the risk of putting too fine a point on this, Obama’s move away from unilateralism reflects how our constitutional, democratic system of government is supposed to work.

Arguably the most amazing response to the news came from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence & Terrorism, and a member of the House Intelligence Committee:

“President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The President does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria.”

This is one of those remarkable moments when a prominent member of Congress urges the White House to circumvent Congress, even after many of his colleagues spent the week making the exact opposite argument.

The next question, of course, is simple: now that Obama is putting Congress on the spot, what’s likely to happen next? Now that the dog has caught the car it was chasing, what exactly does it intend to do?

Lawmakers, in theory, could cut short their month-long break, return to work, and consider their constitutional obligations immediately. That almost certainly won’t happen, at least not the lower chamber — as my colleague Will Femia reported earlier, House Republican leaders have said they’re prepared to “consider a measure the week of September 9th.” There are reports Senate Democratic leaders may act sooner, but no formal announcement has been made.

The dirty little secret is that much of Congress was content to have no say in this matter. When a letter circulated demanding the president seek lawmakers’ authorization, most of the House and Senate didn’t sign it — some were willing to let Obama do whatever he chose to do, some didn’t want the burden of responsibility. Members spent the week complaining about the president not taking Congress’ role seriously enough, confident that their rhetoric was just talk.

It spoke to a larger problem: for far too many lawmakers, it’s so much easier to criticize than govern. In recent years, members of Congress have too often decided they’re little more than powerful pundits, shouting from the sidelines rather than getting in the game.

It’s one of the angles to today’s news that’s so fascinating — Obama isn’t just challenging Congress to play a constructive role in a national security matter, the president is also telling lawmakers to act like adults for a change. They’re federal lawmakers in the planet’s most powerful government, and maybe now would be a good time to act like grown-ups who are mindful of their duties.

In his first inaugural address, Obama said, “[I]n the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.” For the last four-and-a-half years, much of Congress ignored this call. Today, members received a striking reminder.

Yes, Congress is a hapless embarrassment. It can’t pass a budget; it can’t pass a farm bill; and it can barely manage to keep the government’s lights on. But institutional responsibilities don’t fade away just because radicalized GOP lawmakers are struggling through a post-policy phase.

There is a real possibility that Congress will simply decline to give the president the authorization he seeks. I suspect Obama will get the votes he needs, but note that Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), two senators who never saw a country they weren’t tempted to bomb, issued a statement this afternoon that read:

“We believe President Obama is correct that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons requires a military response by the United States and our friends and allies. Since the President is now seeking Congressional support for this action, the Congress must act as soon as possible.

“However, we cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President’s stated goal of Assad’s removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests. Anything short of this would be an inadequate response to the crimes against humanity that Assad and his forces are committing. And it would send the wrong signal to America’s friends and allies, the Syrian opposition, the Assad regime, Iran, and the world — all of whom are watching closely what actions America will take.”

In other words, McCain and Graham realize Obama is eyeing narrow, limited military intervention, and they’re outraged — they want a broader conflict with a massive U.S. role. They may well vote against a measure on Syria because it doesn’t go far enough in their eyes.

And that’s certainly their right. Others will oppose strikes for progressive reasons. Others still endorse the White House strategy.

The point is, the people’s elected representatives will have a debate, which is exactly what it should do. It won’t be pretty, but it’s how the United States is supposed to operate. Congress has clear responsibilities — whether lawmakers want them or not — and it’s time they exercise them.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 31, 2013

September 1, 2013 Posted by | Congress, National Security | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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