President Trump’s deployment of U.S. military power, when assassinating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard general in Iraq on Jan. 3, has triggered provisions of the War Powers Act. The legislation reads: “The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.”
When sending the armed forces into theaters of war, the president is required to submit “within 48 hours” to the House and the Senate a written report setting forth the circumstances, the legislative authority, and the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities or involvement.
Trump did submit the initial report. Of course, the public still does not know the nature of the “imminent attack” against Americans that was cited as the reason for taking out the general. Nor does Congress.
Within 60 to 90 days, the 1973 law reads, the president is required to terminate the deployment.
However, on Jan. 9, the House voted, 224-194, to approve a concurrent resolution that “directs the President to terminate the use of U. S. armed forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran,” —within 30 days — unless “such use of the armed forces is necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has introduced similar legislation in the Senate. He may pick up the support of Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah). Responding to a team of administration representatives who defended the Jan. 3 attack on the general during a briefing last week, Lee protested that their message was “to run along and be good little boys and girls and not debate” the justification for the strike.
“It’s un-American (and)it’s unconstitutional.”
The associated actions of the CIA in the region also may have triggered less-well-known provisions of the Intelligence Oversight Act.
That legislation reads that the director of the CIA is required to keep the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — in particular, the “gang of eight” top committee and House and Senate leaders — “fully and currently informed” of “significant anticipated intelligence activity” (meaning covert actions).
Reportedly, CIA Director Gina Haspel, drawing from several intelligence agencies, made a national intelligence assessment — based on “sources and methods” —that Americans would be more endangered if Soleimani were not taken out.
As the chief legislative assistant for national security to the Senate Democratic majority whip in the mid-1970s, I played a role in shaping the early implementation of both pieces of legislation in response to the Johnson and Nixon “imperial presidencies” of that era. It was a time, after Watergate and Vietnam, of a congressional resurgence in influence over national security policy.
Such a righting of checks and balances is again long overdue in the 21st century.