Eric Cantor v. America

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Square-chinned Republican Congressman Eric Cantor—one of the party's deputy whips—sat yesterday for an interview with Chris Matthews that hit so many wrong notes I assumed I misheard him. Well, I didn't. Here's the transcript.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you Congressman Cantor, very clearly, to clear up our discussion, if the U.S. Congress were to discuss tomorrow morning whether to declare war on Iran, would you vote yay?

CANTOR: This congress is not going to do that because it`s the commander in chief`s role, Chris, and Steve knows that as well. It`s not Congress that will ask for that. It is the commander in chief that will make that decision. Every president whether republican or Republican or Democrat since the War Powers Act was in place has interpreted it as being the commander in chief`s role to do that.

Matthews throws it to Democrat Steve "Wiped Off the Map" Israel.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Israel, what`s the role of Congress in war and peace?

ISRAEL: Congress under the Constitution of the United States authorizes war. The War Powers Act requires Congress to vote on whether we should insert troops into hostile situations. The law is clear.

CANTOR: Absolutely not.

ISRAEL: Come on, Eric.

CANTOR: As a commander in chief the constitution gives…

MATTHEWS: Congressman Cantor, why did the president ask for approval of Congress before he went to Iraq?

CANTOR: I certainly think his counsel gave him guidance why he need to do that but the Constitution gives the commander in chief the right to send our troops into battle.

MATTHEWS: Maybe when it comes to war we don`t need a Congress according to that.

Here's the War Powers Act. You can figure out whether it means the president can commit to any war with the option of informing Congress, or if it means… something else.

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  1. Cantor isn’t misreading the War Powers Act.

    He’s claiming that the President can ignore it because of his inherent powers.

    Which means Cantor doesn’t know anything about the Constitution.

  2. Cantor is just another one of these “justify at all costs” politicians. Pure sleaze.

  3. It’s almost as if he never went to high school. Because, in my high school civics class, they way they taught it was: the Congress proposes, the Executive disposes. Congress declares war (or, in some circumstances, undeclares it) and the President manages it.

    And this is why I am really, really down on the Republican Party right now. They seem to be yearning for a “man on horseback.” It’s not as if Democrats are immune to the Great Heresy. But the really dangerous ideas about presidential autonomy and authority are bubbling out of the Republican Party and especially its Christian Evangelical wing.

  4. Ok, so, if I just keep repeating Commander in Chief all of these bad men with their evil, dirty , naughty, evil questions will just go away….

  5. I firmly believe that no one in Congress knows jack about the Constitution, Joe, no surprise there.

    The WPA is very clear in that the President CAN deploy troops to combat without Congressional authorization. The wording of the act is weak: the President shall consult with Congress “in every possible instance”. Oh, well, says the Prez, I would’ve consulted, but we got this crackerjack intel that the Iranians were about to get an A-bomb, so I had to attack now.

    IIRC, Presidents have acted without consulting Congress until AFTER the military action was initiated or complete in numerous instances since 1973 (Operation Just Cause in Panama, 1989, springs to mind, I think. El Dorado Canyon in Libya, 1986, was another.)

    And it is a very serious question whether or not the authors’ interpretation of the constitution in sec. 2(c) is correct at all:

    “The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

    Again, the question is not what we’d LIKE the Executive’s constitutional powers to be, but what they actually are. And in practice the President has historically exercised a great deal of latitude in deploying troops without Congressional approval including (but not limited to) the expedition to Russia during WWI, and (especially) the entire Korean Conflict.

    So there is no telling where the Sup. Ct. would come down if it were ever tested. There are other constitutional issues surrounding the WPA, too.

    P.S. What’s with all the accent marks “`” in lieu of apostrophes “‘” in the block quotation?

  6. I someimes wonder if the War Powers Act did not make things worse, in terms of muddying the waters regarding what action is required by Congress prior to the President ordering the military into battle. It’s almost as if that legislation led to the warmaking language in the Constitution to be as meaningless as what the Commerce Clause has become.

  7. would you vote yay?

    Was this in the original transcript? Because if so, it’s really sad. You don’t vote “yay,” you vote “yea.” Maybe it seems small, but . . . god, can’t we get any literate transcribers?

  8. Do these folks like Cantor think that there is going to be a Republican President forever? This unitary executive theory is just so creepily un-American I can’t figure out why anyone is pushing it besides Cheney and Yoo.

    Of course, when there is a Democratic President, the whole theory will be declared to be inoperative and grossly unconstitutional by the same folks pushing it now. Pelosi’s plane is the tip of the iceberg.

    JKP, the accents are a lefty dogwhistle thing – see it’s French!

  9. I thought it was “yay” or “neigh”. It isn’t?

  10. I’m ashamed that this greasy buttplug is my congressman.

  11. ‘You don’t vote “yay,” you vote “yea.”‘

    I don’t know, gryll. I suspect the prospect of starting a war with Iran would cause at least 75% of Republicans to shout “Yay!”

  12. Since Matthews’ question involving “declaring war” on Iran, Cantor is obviously wrong on the notion that the Prez can do that. As to whether the Prez can commit troops to battle without prior approval, the WPA says “yes”, or “yay”, if you’d prefer.

    The core issue is whether “declaring war” as a formality is obsolete, as a practical matter, in an age of rapid deployments and long-range missile bombardment. I say no, because I believe that a formal declaration serves to make clear a nation’s intentions and deter a situation of constant, low-level hostilities. Unfortunately, the “police action” end-around of the last 50 years has eroded the constitutional balance and gotten us involved in an endless series of worldwide pissing matches. But there is no judicial way to change this–the only change will come if a substantial majority reacquires the belief that America should mind its own business and let others go about slaughtering each other without our assistance.

  13. ChrisO: to further your point, how are we able to (1) announce our intentions to invade and occupy a country, then (2) actually invade, (3) knock out the government and (4) replace it with a system to our liking, all without declaring war.

  14. ChrisO: to further your point, how are we able to (1) announce our intentions to invade and occupy a country, then (2) actually invade, (3) knock out the government and (4) replace it with a system to our liking, all without declaring war.

    I suppose the initial announcement would be a “de facto” declaration of war, wouldn’t it? Can such a thing be done in a de facto manner? Remember, the administration argues that the congressional authorization to use force in Iraq qualifies as a “declaration of war.” Does it? In the end, there is no magic language. I actually believe that the authorization measure did actually constitute a war declaration. Arguments to the contrary I find to be hair-splitting and legalistic, for what amounts to a political act.

    Indeed, the political-question doctrine likely means that the Supreme Court will never address this issue squarely. Lacking an army of its own, the Supreme Court is quite aware of the limitations of its authority.

  15. “I actually believe that the authorization measure did actually constitute a war declaration. Arguments to the contrary I find to be hair-splitting and legalistic, for what amounts to a political act.”

    The reason I ‘legalistically’ disagree with this assertion is because we are then left with redundant clauses in the WPA (e.g., that the prez may use force by (1) declaration of war (2) statutory permission). It also casts doubt upon a whole chunk of the constitution, i.e., the declaring war power ends up just sitting there, like a hamburger.

    No, I think the vote to authorize force gives the prez some leeway, but still puts the responsibility squarely on the prez’s shoulders. A declaration of war sends a much different signal, and given our current quagmire, I would say it is an important signal.

  16. *sigh*

    Nice republic you had there, people.

    Ave, Bush, Imperator!

  17. A Congressman that doesn’t know the Constitution? What a surprise!!!

    “””ChrisO: to further your point, how are we able to (1) announce our intentions to invade and occupy a country, then (2) actually invade, (3) knock out the government and (4) replace it with a system to our liking, all without declaring war.”””

    We are not engaging in war. That’s so 20th century, we are engaging the spread of democracy.

  18. “Here’s the War Powers Act. You can figure out whether it means the president can commit to any war with the option of informing Congress, or if it means… something else.”

    He who holds the football calls the plays.

  19. JKP,

    Is that section 2(c) of the WPA?

    I would counter that with the Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution which applies to Congressional authority.

    “To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

    To provide and maintain a navy;

    To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

    To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

  20. “””Nice republic you had there, people.”””

    Thanks Aresen, I sure will miss it.

  21. Holy fuck. These are Republicans talking? I guess none of them ever read anything by Mr. Republican, Robert A. Taft? In Taft’s day, President Truman argued that a Security Council resolution could take the place of a congressional declaration of war (the theory being that the United Nations Charter trumped the U.S. Constitution), which is nonsense, but at least he never thought that the President could go to war entirely on his own authority.

  22. The War Powers Act was passed in 1973 to limit the powers that Presidents had taken to get us into war – especially the powers Lyndon Johnson had assumed in getting us into Vietnam without a Congressional Declaration of War.

    Initial push for the War Powers Act came from antiwar liberals, but conservatives who wanted to restrain Presidential power also supported the WPA. Rep John Ashbrook and Rep Phil Crane were both floor managers for the bill.

    The War Powers Act was written to take back power the President has assumed, but it did not limit the President as much as the Constitution, and in fact formalized some of the un-Constitutional powers the President had taken. This was pointed out by antiwar leftist Ron Dellums, who voted against the War Powers Act.

  23. it should be “yea” or “nay”, not “yay” or “neigh”.

    Seamus: I haven’t read the UN Charter, but if it has the sort of language you imply, and if it were ratified as a treaty by the US, it would be considered a law under our constitution – perhaps complementary to, but not superseding the US Constitution

  24. Do these folks like Cantor think that there is going to be a Republican President forever? This unitary executive theory is just so creepily un-American I can’t figure out why anyone is pushing it besides Cheney and Yoo.

    The “unitary executive” theory is the one that holds that the entire executive branch is subject to the control of the president. Thus, under this theory, there can’t be any “independent agencies,” such as the FTC. (Supporters of the unitary executive believe that Humphrey’s Executor v. United States was wrongly decided.) The theory is about allocation of power within the executive branch; it really doesn’t have anything to do with the usurpation by the executive of powers that the constitution places with the legislative branch.

  25. Rep Cantor:

    It`s not Congress that will ask for that. It is the commander in chief that will make that decision. Every president whether republican or Republican or Democrat since the War Powers Act was in place has interpreted it as being the commander in chief`s role to do that.

    My God, listen to him. Either he’s an idiot or he thinks that we are.

  26. “My God, listen to him. Either he’s an idiot or he thinks that we are.”

    Probably both.

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