Washington – Rep. Jim Himes is on a quest to rein in President-elect Donald Trump’s ability to take the United States to war, shifting that authority to Capitol Hill.
He introduced a bill in the last days of Congress – which guaranteed it would have no action – that would give Congress new powers over the White House when it comes to war.
“For decades Congress has wimped out on its authority to declare war,” Himes, D-4th District, said. “It hasn’t wanted to own it.”
Himes does not expect his bill to get any consideration before this Congress gavels out on Friday. He said he wanted to throw down a “marker” now and will reintroduce the legislation –and seek co-sponsors – when the new Congress convenes in January.
Called the Reclamation of War Powers Act, Himes’ bill would allow Congress to withhold money from new U.S. military initiatives without a declaration of war approved by the lawmakers.
His legislation also would require a president, when requesting a declaration of war or Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) from Congress, to issue a report on the threat faced, expected duration of the conflict, and the justification for and scope of the military action.
It also would bar the next president from using prior Authorizations for Use of Military Force, including those used to launch U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, by repealing those AUMF’s within 180 days after enactment of the bill. That means the president would have to get new approval from Congress to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places.
That would prevent Trump from using President Obama’s broad interpretation of a current AUMF to initiate new military conflicts.
With the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, Congress gave the president authority for military action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Obama argued that AUMF allows the U.S. military to go after ISIS and other terrorists, too.
Responding to congressional criticism, Obama in February of 2015 asked lawmakers for new war authority to fight Islamic State militants. But Congress did nothing.
“Congress has willingly given all authority to the president,” Himes said.
In his final weeks in office, Obama broadened the legal scope of the war on terror, saying his administration is legally justified in taking on the extremist group al-Shabab in Somalia.
While Himes supports the U.S. campaign against ISIS and the U.S. war on terror, he believes the president overstepped his authority.
“President Obama decided to go to war against Libya and ISIS without congressional authorization,” Himes said. “That’s wrong.”
Now Trump will have the same latitude. Obama has left him with a free hand to use the law meant for those responsible for 9/11 to wage war around the world and point to the precedent set by the Obama administration to do it.
The president-elect’s vow to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and his tendency to lash out against those who oppose him has caused anxiety among Democrats that Trump is about to ascend to commander-in-chief.
“Some of us are really worried about Trump,” Himes said.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who lost the vice presidency as Hillary Clinton’s running mate, has posted a petition on his Senate web site that says “sign your name if you think no president, including Trump, should be able to go to war without a vote in Congress.”
Kaine focused on the issue in his first speech on the Senate floor since the election.
“So an original authorization that was very specific by this body to allow action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks is now being used all over the globe against organizations that didn’t even exist when the 9/11 attack occurred,” Kaine said. “It is time for us to redraft the 2001 authorization that has been stretched far beyond its original intent.”
Obama recently released a 66-page “Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States Use of Military Force” that made the legal argument for the way his administration conducted war.
“Since my first days in office I have underscored the importance of adhering to standards, including international legal standards, that govern the use of force,” Obama said in the foreword of the report.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Obama’s legal justification for war “rank hypocrisy.”
“He abused executive power more than any president in my lifetime,” McCain said.
Himes concedes “the legislative path for [his bill] is tortured.”
He said Republicans in the next Congress will face political pressures to avoid stripping Trump of authority “right out of the box.” But he said some of the conservative Freedom Caucus Republicans might join his effort anyway.
While he realizes approval of his legislation by a House and Senate controlled by the GOP hasn’t much of a chance, Himes said, “It’s worth asking the question, ‘Do you believe in the Constitution or not?’”
Himes also has used his war powers campaign for political purposes.
In a recent email blast to his supporters, the Himes re-election campaign said, “Congress must take back the reins and protect our nation from the hair-trigger reactions of the President-elect.”