It was Aug. 8, seven weeks ago tomorrow, that President Obama launched U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq. It was this week when the president expanded the mission to include strikes on ISIS targets in Syria.
And it was last week when Congress decided to give itself another 54 days off, rather than extend legal authority to the Obama administration to conduct this military offensive.
Most of us have been working under the assumption that Congress had one of two options: (1) debate the use of force during Congress’ post-election, lame-duck session; or (2) return to work before the election to do its duty and meet its constitutional obligations.
But in a new interview with Carl Hulse, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) points to Door #3 – also known as See You Next Year.
[Boehner is increasingly convinced that Congress must hold a full debate on granting President Obama the authority to use military force against terrorists…. But Mr. Boehner believes a post-election, lame-duck session is the wrong time for such a weighty decision.“Doing this with a whole group of members who are on their way out the door, I don’t think that is the right way to handle this,” he said.Mr. Boehner, who is open to a more expansive military campaign to destroy the Islamic State, thinks lawmakers should take up the issue after the new Congress convenes in January. At that time, he said, President Obama should come forward with a proposal for consideration.
Greg Sargent noted in response, “You have to love the idea that this is too ‘weighty’ a decision to make during the lame duck session, but not ‘weighty’ enough to vote on before the escalation actually launched, let alone before an election in which voters deserve to know where lawmakers stand on a matter of such great consequence.”
Indeed, it’s difficult to think of a defense for Boehner’s new posture.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Americans elect members to specific terms, during which they’re expected to meet their obligations. The key word in “lame-duck session” is “session” – these elected federal lawmakers have jobs to do, and the fact that they’re nearing the end of their term doesn’t negate the fact that there’s important work to do.
Boehner makes it sound as if Congress is high school, and everyone can just coast for the last couple of weeks after final exams. That’s crazy – the United States is engaged in combat operations and the people’s elected representatives aren’t supposed to just take a pass on the crisis for the sake of convenience.
As for the notion that the White House “should come forward with a proposal,” I’d remind the Speaker that Congress is a co-equal branch of government. Waiting for the executive branch to write a draft resolution for the legislative branch isn’t a requirement – but Congress approving wars is.
As we talked about yesterday, Americans can take every Republican anti-Obama argument of late – about separation of powers, about co-equal branches of government, about the importance of institutional checks and balances – and throw them right out the window, confident in the knowledge that the GOP didn’t mean a word of it. For all the chatter about the president being an out-of-control, lawless tyrant, here’s an instance in which Obama really is acting without any congressional authority, only to find congressional leaders saying, “No big deal. We’ll think about doing something in a few months, maybe.”
Fair-minded observers can debate the propriety of the president’s actions, but for over two centuries, presidents have gone as far as Congress will let them. Especially in times of war, every Commander in Chief has sought as much power and authority as he can muster.
It’s up to Congress – filled with members who spent the summer complaining about Obama golfing instead of working – to meet its responsibilities. This Congress isn’t even going through the motions. Lawmakers aren’t even keeping up appearances. They’re not even trying.
I thought this Congress couldn’t get any worse. I stand corrected.