Will Congress Vote No on Obama's War in Syria?

The president finally follows the Constitution. Will it matter?


On Saturday, President Obama announced that — this once — he'll do what the Constitution commands. It doesn't seem appropriate to praise him for that, but our standards have fallen so low that we're now actually surprised when a president seeks congressional authorization before waging war.

Surprised — and, in some cases, outraged. "Weakest president since James Buchanan," former Ambassador John Bolton fumed on Fox News: "Astounding! … a very foolish thing."

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., was downright insulted that Obama bothered to ask for congressional imprimatur: "The president doesn't need 535 Members of Congress to enforce his own redline."

The Constitution's architect, James Madison, believed that "in no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature" — but what did he know? Modern practice has been to let the Tomahawks fly, Congress be damned.

The closest precedent to what the administration proposes in Syria is 1999's air war over Kosovo, during which President Clinton ignored two congressional votes denying authorization, and became the first president to wage an illegal war beyond the War Powers Resolution's 60-day time limit (with Libya in 2011, Obama became the second).

On April 28, 1999, the House voted no on declaring war 427-2, and no on authorizing the president to continue airstrikes against Serbia, 213-213. "The House is obviously struggling to find its voice," Clinton's National Security Council spokesman explained, "so we sort of just blew by" the House votes.

Clinton never wanted a vote; in contrast, on Saturday, Obama demanded that legislators stand and be counted: "All of us should be accountable… and that can only be accomplished with a vote."

The growth of the Imperial Presidency, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. observed in his classic 1973 book on the subject, has been "as much a matter of congressional abdication as of presidential usurpation," as legislators have ceded vast authority to the executive branch.

That's a danger here in the Syria debate as well: The draft Authorization for Use of Military Force the White House released Saturday is appallingly broad.

There's no "sunset clause," and ground troops aren't ruled out. It neither limits the president to striking Syrian forces, nor bans strikes outside Syria — it's loose enough, as Harvard's Jack Goldsmith points out, to allow the president to wage war against Iran or Hezbollah in Lebanon, so long as "he determines" there's some connection to WMD in Syria.

"A president will interpret an AUMF for all it is worth, and then some," Goldsmith cautions. Indeed, the last two administrations have used the post-Sept. 11 AUMF to justify unrestricted surveillance, drone strikes against American citizens, and other actions never contemplated by Congress. In this case, why take the risk?

On Saturday, Obama maintained he has authority to act without Congress, and Secretary of State John Kerry echoed that claim the next day: "He has the right to do that, no matter what Congress does."

Still, asking for a vote makes it a lot harder to ignore the results. Clinton had already been bombing Serbia for a month when House refused authorization for the air war in 1999. A "no" vote in this case won't be "blown by" nearly so easily.

"You have to win the vote. You have to win," a panicky senior administration official told the Wall Street Journal Saturday. "House Republicans are poised to say no on Syria," the Washington Examiner reported Monday; "I may be wrong, but I don't think the votes are even close," said Rep. David Nunes, R-Calif.

Kerry says he "can't contemplate" that Congress would say no. He better start.

This article originally appeared at the Washington Examiner.

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  1. Magic Eight Ball says….

    Concentrate and ask again

    1. Keep calling votes until you get the result you wanted. Keep recounting the votes until it swings your way. Keep suing until a high court rules in your favor.

      It’s the democratic way!

      1. Move the goalposts until you win, and then game over!

        1. IT’S A TAX!!!!

  2. Too bad that Oregon bakery won’t be around to bake a cake for Boner and The One to have to celebrate whatever havod and desctruction the US gummint ultimately decides to inflict on the Syrians. Cause – no gaiz involved in the Syria conflict, as far as we know.

    And everyone likes cake after loosing death from above on a people’s.

  3. People keep talking about this vote. When will it occur?

    Knowing Obama, it will be a massive, somber Joint Session of Congress which he willaddress in FDR fashion, and he’ll get his own “Day which will live in infamy” moment to go along with the Photoshopped cover of Time.

    1. This vote will separate the rabid isolationists from the people who care about the Syrian people.

  4. I bet Obama wants them to vote “no”.

    “Barry is the guy who blusters “I’d kick your ass if my buddies weren’t holding me back!” after carefully ensuring his buddies have grabbed his arms.”…..s-war.html

    1. I’m not so worried about Obama. Your assessment is probably correct. It’s the buddies that concern me, and the ball is in their court now.

  5. Beaner says he’ll back Obama on Syria. Tell me again why we have an opposition party.

      1. Hegemonic Discourse

    1. We have an opposition party? Since when?

        1. Thank you db.

    2. We’ll have to hope the far wings of both parties revolt and stick together to vote ‘no’.

    3. The true opposition party is growing by leaps and bounds and will take over any day now, Nick and Matt wrote a book about it.

  6. the vote gives Obama some cover for, ironically, his own bluster. There is a deliciousness in a man whose career is based on words being stuck in the ass by them and that red line comment.

    As a bonus, he can blame obstructionists if the vote is ‘no’ with the knowledge that most of his supporters have no clue that those in favor of a strike tend to be Repubs.

  7. We can hope the congress life-forms have their fingers in the air:
    “Recent polls show about 60 percent of Americans oppose a U.S. military strike on Syria, while just nine percent support it.”…..40683.html
    There is an election coming up.

    1. Not within memory range, there isn’t.

      1. I blame Bush

  8. I’m sure the vote will be yes. It will be somewhat close, in that vulnerable dems will be allowed to vote no once the result is assured, but it will pass, and Obama will have his cover.

    And then when it doesn’t go well, he can still find a way to blame Team Red, because that’s what he does.

  9. Maybe they can just “deem” it to be passed?

    1. Excellent.

      1. Apparently he already has the means to do so, after a walk he has decided he needs people to point fingers at, just in case.

  10. we’re now actually surprised when a president seeks congressional authorization before waging war.

    We elect an Autocrat-in-Chief every four years, and turn him loose to run the country as he solely sees fit. It’s right there in the Constitution, dammit.

  11. Alt-text: “Why the hell can’t I? You mean I can’t shoot anyone I want to? Is that a fact?”

  12. If Congress authorizes military action in Syria, expect this to be an important point in the ongoing war for control of the Republican Party. I see no great desire for intervention among the GOP base, and the RINOs and establishment types are just asking for trouble if they go along.

    1. Republicans were more opposed to intervention under Clinton too. I don’t know how much of that was partisanship, and how much of the turnaround under Bush was due to 9/11.

  13. Yesterday I was thinking, sure, they’ll vote in favor of the AUMF now because they’re so pleased he deigned to ask for it. Like parents who accede to children’s wish because they’re teaching them to say “please”.

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  15. my classmate’s step-sister makes $81/h hourly on the internet. She has been out of a job for 6 months but last month her pay was $20391 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site…

  16. Ambassador Yosemite Sam can go suck on a lemon. What an imperialist tool.

    Seriously, though, it’s sad that a president — any president — is being criticized for going to Congress to seek authorization to put American lives in harm way, to spend money we don’t have and to attack a small foreign country that directly threatens us in no way.

    What have we come to?

  17. my classmate’s step-sister makes $84/h hourly on the internet. She has been out of a job for 6 months but last month her pay was $20791 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site… …

  18. So we are being asked to go to war against another country in order for the CnC to save face from a “red line ” comment he made, evidently without much forethought.

    What about the loss of face from the comment he made after Benghazi about bringing the attackers to justice? He did not fulfill that vow either. Is the Benghazi loss of face not worth saving but the Syrian loss of face is ?

    No one from Syria has killed a US Ambassador that I know of, unless it’s those same who attacked us at Benghazi ?

    Oh well, at this point, what difference does it make ?

  19. eres un encanto besitos

  20. but what did he know? Modern

  21. was downright insulted that Obama bothered to ask for

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