President Obama committed U.S. forces to a military conflict with Libya. He did so without without following the basic dictates of the Constitution, which requires that wars be declared by Congress, or the War Powers Act, which outlines requirements and timelines for cooperating with the House and Senate after a war has begun.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich has raised this issue again and again, pressing for congressional oversight -- sometimes on his own, sometimes in the company of a handful on constitutionally-concerned Democrats and Republicans such as Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
Now, two months into the fight, Kucinich, D-Ohio, is pressing the point; demanding to know when his colleagues are going to apply the congressional oversight that is required by the Constitution and the laws of the land.
Unfortunately, while last week's votes on Libya-related amendments to the Defense Authorization bill suggest that there is a good deal of discomfort in the House with the Libyan mission, Kucinich's attempts to force a debate are being blocked by House leaders.
The House was supposed to hold a debate Wednesday on Congressman Kucinich's proposal to end U.S. involvement in the war in Libya. But the resolution was pulled from the floor calendar in a classic case of dereliction of duty.
Kucinich is not just disappointed. He is bluntly critical of the Obama White House and congressional leaders, who he suggests are avoiding the issue because they know that support for the Libyan project is dwindling.
The pressure from Kucinich and the growing skepticism among members of Congress has led the administration to step up efforts to defend the president's Libyan initiative. After Wednesday's planned debate on the Kucinich resolution was scrapped, plans were announced for an administration-sponsored classified briefing for members of Congress regarding the war in Libya.
Kucinich objected to what he described as "cynical... manipilation for war," arguing that, “In the wake of an Iraq war based on lies and manufactured intelligence, the American people and, in particular, the journalists who provide them with information must not stand for war conjured in private. It is not sufficient for the Administration to declare war absent a constitutionally required declaration of war or authorization for the use of military force and tell Congress and the American people to ‘trust us.’"
“A classified briefing in lieu of an open debate," Kucinich concluded, "is an affront to the American people and to the very concept of open government."
That is precisely what the founders intended for members of Congress to say at moments such as this. To suggest otherwise would be to deny every original intent of the Constitution and the American experiment.
Whenever the United States is engaged in an undeclared war, the Constitution is affronted. The challenges being raised by Kucinich are important, and necessary, and they cannot be downplayed or swept aside by a private briefing.
What the congressman is explaining about the need to reassert the authority of the Congress in a proper system of checks and balances is vital not just to the debate about the president's Libyan mission but about whether -- in matters of war and peace -- Congress remains a separate but iequal branch of the federal government.
After the debate on his resolution was delayed by House leaders, here is what Kucinich had to say:
“I am disappointed that the President and leadership feel the need to buy even more time to shore up support for the War in Libya. It’s not surprising that some are now wondering if a preliminary vote count on my resolution came out in favor of defending the Constitution.
“The House Leadership has communicated to me via email that the vote on Libya will be postponed ‘in an effort to compel more information and consultation’ from the Administration. I have been asked to provide input for the information which the House will seek from the Administration.
“The House is expected to consider a rule that will structure the consideration of House Concurrent Resolution 51, which requires the President to remove armed forces from Libya.
“It is clear that the Administration violated Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution which reserves to Congress the power to declare war. It is clear that the Administration is in violation of the War Powers Act, which, within a 60 day period, requires the President to terminate military action or seek authorization from Congress to continue the military action. Congress needs to act to defend the Constitution and the statute.
“The Administration wants to postpone and avoid this deliberation; however Congress cannot maintain its position as a co-equal branch of government if it willingly forfeits the decision-making on matters of war and peace. This is why it is important that this issue be brought forward for deliberation and a vote.
“I look forward to participating in this process of discovery and, in the interest of transparency, will make public all document requests.
“I look forward to the time when we will debate House Concurrent Resolution 51 and the Constitutional and statutory issues surrounding the war power.”