Libya - Constitutional Crisis with Immense Implications

House Floor remarks by Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) in support of the Amash/ Kucinich Amendment to HR 2219 to deny authorization for the use of funds for the war in Libya   

Mr. Chairman: For more than three months, our nation has been amidst a quiet constitutional crisis that carries immense implications.

 The Gentleman from Florida is sadly mistaken to dismiss this as a meaningless philosophical discussion. This issue strikes at the very heart of our Constitutional form of government.

On March 19th, completely without Congressional authorization, the President ordered an unprovoked attack against Libya.

 In doing so, he crossed a very bright line placed in the Constitution specifically to prevent so momentous and fatal a decision as war from being made by a single individual.

 The American Founders were explicit on this point. For centuries, European monarchs had plunged their nations into bloody and debilitating wars on whim and the Founders wanted to protect the American Republic from that fate.

 James Madison explained why this way:

 “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department…the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man…War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war a physical force is to be created and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied, and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed…Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded.”

 The president has tried to justify this act in a variety of ways: that bombing another country is not really an act of war; that there wasn’t time to consult Congress (only the United Nations Security Council); and that it was a morally justifiable humanitarian act.

 Never was there a greater provocation or clearer moral justification for war than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And never was there a more activist president than Franklin Roosevelt.

 Yet, within 24 hours of that attack, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress in this very hall. He clearly recognized that as commander in chief his authority only extended to ordering “that all measures be taken for our defense.” He recognized that under our Constitution, anything more required an act of Congress, which he sought and obtained.

The unprovoked attack on Libya was not authorized by this Congress, and is accordingly unconstitutional and illegal.

 Indeed, two weeks ago, the House considered a resolution authorizing a war with Libya and it rejected that measure by nearly a three to one margin. It then considered a second measure to authorize acts of war against Libya just short of actual combat. It rejected that measure as well.

 The precedent being established right now by the President’s deliberate defiance of the Constitution and the clear will of Congress has profound implications for our nation’s future.

 If this act is allowed to stand unchallenged, it means that the checks and balances painstakingly built into the Constitution on the supreme question of war and peace have been rendered meaningless.

 Weeks ago, the House voted to deny authorization for the use of funds for the war on Libya effective October 1. This amendment simply follows through on that decision in the actual appropriations act.

 Frankly, we need to do more than that. Clearly one of the conditions for increasing the debt limit must be to assure that no funds – either borrowed or raised – in the current budget or the next – should be used to continue to support this illegal act.

 And we need to remember that a war, once started, cannot always be turned off by an appropriations act. Once we have attacked another country without provocation, we have created an aggrieved belligerent that now has cause to pursue that war regardless of what Congress later decides.

 That’s why this precedent is so dangerous and why the President’s actions are so devastating to our very form of government. And that’s why we need to speak clearly and unequivocally at every opportunity through measures like this offered today by the Gentlemen from Michigan and Ohio.