Lawyers: Bush won’t need Congress’ OK

Aug. 25, 2002, 11:54PM
’91 resolution to attack Iraq is sufficient
Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for President Bush have concluded he can launch an attack on Iraq without new approval from Congress, in part because they say that permission remains in force from the 1991 resolution giving Bush’s father authority to wage war in the Persian Gulf, according to administration officials.

At the same time, some administration officials are arguing internally that the president should seek lawmakers’ backing anyway to build public support and to avoid souring congressional relations. If Bush took that course, he still would be likely to assert that congressional consent was not legally necessary, the officials said.

Whatever the White House decides about its obligations under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, some House and Senate leaders appear determined to push resolutions of support for ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when Congress returns after Labor Day because they consider the issue too grave for Congress to be sidestepped. Administration officials say privately that military strikes against Saddam’s regime are virtually inevitable, although all the specifics have not been decided and action is not imminent.

Bush has said repeatedly he will consult lawmakers before deciding how to proceed but has pointedly stopped short of saying he will request their approval. The difference between getting legislators’ opinions, as opposed to their permission, could lead to a showdown this fall between Congress and the White House.

“We don’t want to be in the legal position of asking Congress to authorize the use of force when the president already has that full authority,” said a senior administration official involved in setting the strategy. “We don’t want, in getting a resolution, to have conceded that one was constitutionally necessary.”

War-powers disputes have occurred frequently since 1800, when the Supreme Court upheld President John Adams’ undeclared war with France. The Constitution grants the president the duties and powers of commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But because of the framers’ concern that an unchecked executive might make war in pursuit of glory or personal revenge, they gave Congress the power to declare war. The result is a murky separation of powers.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution was intended to bridge the roles by allowing the president to act unilaterally with military force for 60 to 90 days, with congressional approval required for troops to remain engaged in hostilities after that.

Whether to secure formal congressional support is among many questions confronting Bush as he decides on a course of action toward Iraq.


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