Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has asked his caucus to postpone any Libya resolutions until after they receive a classified briefing Tuesday evening.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to brief senators Wednesday night. 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.
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. Presidents have largely ignored the act since its passage, deeming it an unconstitutional encroachment on executive power.
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.