Has President Obama Violated the War Powers Act of 1973 by Attacking Libya? If so, impeach?
by Bob Price on March 29, 2011 at 11:40 AM
In November of 1973, over the veto of then President Richard Nixon, a Democrat controlled Congress passed the War Powers Act (WPA) of 1973 as a means of clarifying the Constitutional powers of war and limiting presidential power to act without approval of Congress. Has President Barack Obama violated this act by taking action against Libya without Congressional approval?
Many people say this is not the case because the President notified Congress within 48 hours and he is now within the 60 day reporting period (which can be extended by another 30 days pretty much at the President's discretion.) The wording they reference is, "...within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted pursuant to section 4(a)(1), whichever is earlier, the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted (or required to be submitted), unless the Congress (1) has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces, (2) has extended by law such sixty-day period, or (3) is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States."
If you look just at this section you can make the case that President Obama is in compliance with the act. However, before the President can even use the authority to attack another nation under the WPA, he must first clear the hurdle of the authority to use this power contained in section 2(c) which states, "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."
More analysis of the meaning of these terms and phrases can be found in a report titled, The War Powers Resolution: After Thirty Years.
It can be argued that President Obama has acted illegally by pretending to comply with the WPA while ignoring the limitations of the very authority to use the WPA to engage in military action. Clearly the following statements are true.
- Congress has not declared war against Libya.
- Congress has passed no statutory authority for the President to take this action.
- A national emergency was not created by an attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.
Those statements being correct, the President does not have the authority to engage in the actions of war he has undertaken in Libya and has, quite possibly, violated the War Powers Act and committed an impeachable offense.
All that said, what should Congress do at this point? Has the President done the right thing, but without authority? Should his actions be reversed? Should he be impeached or otherwise punished by Congress?
Then Senator Joe Biden was very clear on the subject in 2007 when he stated at the one minute mark in the following video that if President Bush took our nation to war against Iran without Congressional approval, he would lead the attack to impeach him.
Later Biden would repeat and re-emphasize the threat on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews.
Others including Democrat Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Republican Ron Paul (R-TX) have also called for possible impeachment action.
During the Bush administration, officials argued the president did not need Congressional approval before going to war with Iraq or Afghanistan. However, President Bush sought and received approval of Congress before engaging in military action in either place.
What do you think? Has President Obama violated the law and, if so, should he be impeached?