Bipartisan groups push Congress to ‘restore the balance of national security powers’
A coalition of 20 advocacy groups from across the political spectrum are joining together to urge Congress to “restore the balance of national security powers” between itself and the executive branch.
“All Americans have a stake in decisions to go to war, bypass ordinary laws through emergency declarations or sell weapons to foreign regimes,” the advocacy groups said in a “statement of principles” obtained by The Hill ahead of its release.
“However, the system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution is broken,” the statement continues. “This is a bipartisan problem, created through generations of presidential power grabs, and by Congress’s failure to do its job. As a result, it has become practically impossible for the public to have their say in debates that have huge implications both for the American people and for international peace and security.”
The statement comes ahead of a planned House hearing on the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches on national security issues.
A Democratic aide on the House Rules Committee confirmed to The Hill the panel is planning to hold a hearing on the issues raised in the statement.
“This is not about this Congress or this president,” the aide said. “One Congress after the next has abdicated its power to the executive branch for decades now, regardless of who is in the White House. The Rules Committee will be holding a hearing on this topic and trying to find bipartisan solutions that help Congress reassert its constitutional authority.”
Signatories on the statement range from liberal groups such as Center for American Progress, Indivisible and Win Without War to conservative groups such as Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), FreedomWorks and R Street Institute.
“This is a coalescing of this frustration and sort of discomfort with the status quo of foreign policy arrangement that the U.S. has been following over the last several decades,” said Nate Anderson, executive director of CVA.
“In the end, really what this is, is an opportunity to collectively demonstrate to American society that even though we disagree and even though others may disagree, it is possible to come together on common ground and solve big problems like this,” he added.
Though both the committee and the groups’ statement of principle stress that the issue of separation of powers in national security is a decades-old, bipartisan one, the Trump administration has faced several controversies on the subject.
President Trump’s decision in January to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, bringing Tehran and Washington to the brink of war, sparked the latest war powers debate in Congress.
In response, the House in largely party-line votes passed bills to block funding for military action against Iran and repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), the Iraq War authorization that the Trump administration used as legal justification for the Soleimani strike.
The Senate this month also passed a war powers resolution aimed at restricting Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, and the House is expected to take it up in the coming weeks.
Lawmakers have also grappled with the issue of national emergencies after Trump declared an emergency to be able to use military construction funds to build his southern border wall after Congress allocated less money for border security than he requested.
Congress twice voted to nix the emergency declaration, but Trump vetoed both measures, and Congress did not have the votes to override those vetoes.
On arms sales, last year, Trump invoked a little-used emergency power to push through a sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that was opposed by lawmakers. Congress voted to block the emergency arms sales but again could not overcome Trump’s vetoes.
In their statement, the advocacy groups say they are committed to three principles: that military interventions, emergency declarations and arms sales require congressional approval for the president to act; that the president can act without congressional approval in “genuine emergencies where Congress has no time to act,” but only for a limited time; and that emergency powers should only be used for “clearly defined purposes, subject to regular review by Congress and only as a last resort.”
“We look forward to working with those who will rise above partisanship and parochial interests to restore these fundamental checks and balances.” the groups said.
Asked about further steps after the statement, Anderson said the groups are “going to start here,” hoping they “send a message” to “energize and reenergize that congressional debate around foreign policy.”
“The outcome that we want to see in this is the beginning of a much larger conversation around this issue,” he said. “The goal is to re-energize Congress. And really bigger than that, to create the balance that the Constitution describes between the executive and legislative branches.”
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