Update: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who asked Clinton about the War Powers Act during a classified briefing, said Clinton and the administration are sidestepping the measure’s provisions giving Congress the ability to put a 60-day time limit on any military action.
“They are not committed to following the important part of the War Powers Act,” he told TPM in a phone interview. “She said they are certainly willing to send reports [to us] and if they issue a press release, they’ll send that to us too.”
The White House would forge ahead with military action in Libya even if Congress passed a resolution constraining the mission, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a classified briefing to House members Wednesday afternoon.
Clinton was responding to a question from Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) about the administration’s response to any effort by Congress to exercise its war powers, according to a senior Republican lawmaker who attended the briefing.
The answer surprised many in the room because Clinton plainly admitted the administration would ignore any and all attempts by Congress to shackle President Obama’s power as commander in chief to make military and wartime decisions. In doing so, he would follow a long line of Presidents who have ignored the act since its passage, deeming it an unconstitutional encroachment on executive power.
Other than that, the lawmaker said he learned nothing new during the classified briefing by Clinton, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A cross-section of Democrats and Republicans are opposed to President Obama’s decision to authorize air strikes in Libya without seeking a resolution of approval or a declaration of war from Congress. Lawmakers ranging from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, have groused about not being consulted before Obama took military action.
The War Powers Act of 1973, passed in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, puts limits on the ability of the President to send American troops into combat areas without congressional approval. Under the act, the President can only send combat troops into battle or into areas where ”imminent” hostilities are likely, for 60 days without either a declaration of war by Congress or a specific congressional mandate.
The President can extend the time the troops are in the combat area for 30 extra days, without Congressional approval, for a total of 90 days. After that, is unchartered territory. The act does not specifically say what Congress could do if the President turns a blind eye to Congress and refuses to have his role as commander-in-chief constrained, as Presidents have routinely done.
The only options Congress would have at that point is to cut off funding for future military operations and override what would likely be a presidential veto of any such measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has asked his caucus to postpone any Libya resolutions until after they receive a classified briefing Wednesday evening. Afterward, Reid said, all bets are off and Democrats can offer any type of war powers resolution they want.
“I’ve told my caucus, ‘Come loaded with all your questions; ask questions in this classified setting. And then if in fact you want to do more legislatively, you’re entitled to do it,’” Reid told reporters Tuesday. “The War Powers Act we believe is valid, is very clear, setting forth timelines.”
Reid said he read sections of the War Powers Act to his caucus at a lunchtime policy meeting Tuesday.