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Congress Alert

Speaker John Boehner Says House Should Vote on ISIS War but Refuses to Allow Vote


While the United States Constitution says authority over declaring and funding war resides in the Congress, US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner refuses to allow a House vote regarding congressional authorization of the war on ISIS. Boehner says he disagrees with how President Barack Obama is pursuing the war. Boehner also says the House should vote on the war. But instead of calling a vote on the war — something Boehner could have done any time during the war’s escalation — Boehner just waits for the president to present him with a resolution that Boehner, like a diligent servant, promises to promptly put on the House floor for a vote.

Does Boehner not understand that he is the elected leader of one of two bodies of the legislative branch in which constitutionally the war declaration and war funding powers reside?

Has Boehner failed to hear any of his fellow House members’ appeals to him throughout the escalation of US military action against ISIS that the House should debate and vote the war up or down?

It seems incredibly unlikely that Boehner is so ignorant of the authority of the House and himself regarding the US government’s war on ISIS. A more likely explanation of Boehner’s decision to just go along with the president on the matter is that Boehner and other leaders in the House and Senate, who have long supported the war on ISIS, have no intention of taking any action that could in any way restrict Obama’s pursuit of the war.

Boehner’s deference to Obama regarding the war on ISIS is so great that Boehner expressed in an ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos aired Sunday that, while Boehner both thinks there should be a vote in the House and disagrees with how Obama is pursuing the war, Boehner will not bring the war issue to the House floor for a vote this year unless Obama presents him with the resolution to be considered. In fact, Boehner, who has refused to let the House vote on the war as it has escalated, says he would even call the House out of recess and back into session for a vote if Obama sends him a resolution authorizing the war.

Boehner sounds nothing like a leader in the branch of the US government charged with authorizing and funding wars in this exchange from the ABC interview:
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you've said that - assuming you're speaker next year - you'd want to have a vote on a resolution - why not now?

BOEHNER: I'd be happy to.

The president typically in a situation like this would call for an authorization vote and go sell that to the American people and send a resolution to the Hill. The president has not done that. He believes he has authority under existing resolutions to do what he's done.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't agree?

BOEHNER: I think he does have the authority to do it. But the point I'm making is this is a proposal that the Congress ought to consider.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Our reporter Jeff Zeleny has talked to a couple sources on Capitol Hill - said you and other leaders actually warned that if it came up now it would splinter both parties and might not pass.

BOEHNER: I did not suggest that to anybody in my caucus, or to the president for that matter.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So to be clear - if the president put a resolution forward now, you'd call Congress back?

BOEHNER: I'd bring the Congress back.
Boehner’s inaction regarding a vote on the war on ISIS is particularly amazing considering that the war directly conflicts with a resolution the House passed in July in opposition to sustained US military action in Iraq. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) explained this conflict succinctly in a September House floor speech:
On July 25th, this House voted 370-to-40 -- 370 to 40 – in favor of my resolution to require specific Congressional authorization for “sustained combat” operations by U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq. 

Yet since August 8th, the U.S. Navy and Air Force have flown more than 2,700 missions against the Islamic State in Iraq, including 156 airstrikes. These airstrikes have occurred almost daily over the past 6 weeks. Last week the President announced that those operations will escalate and likely expand into Syria. This morning they expanded to targets near Baghdad. If that doesn’t qualify as “sustained combat,” Mr. Speaker, I don’t know what does.

So if this House is serious about what it said in July, then we should demand a vote on congressional authorization for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria. 
While the Senate has failed to act on the resolution H. Con. Res. 105 to which McGovern refers, the language of the resolution expresses an opinion of the overwhelming majority of House members that is at odds with the ongoing US war against ISIS. Here is the text of the resolution:

Prohibiting the President from deploying or maintaining United States Armed Forces in a sustained combat role in Iraq without specific, subsequent statutory authorization.

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring),


The President shall not deploy or maintain United States Armed Forces in a sustained combat role in Iraq without specific statutory authorization for such use

enacted after the date of the adoption of this concurrent resolution.


Nothing in this concurrent resolution supersedes the requirements of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541 et seq.).
Now, with both bodies of Congress in recess, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) has written Boehner requesting that Boehner at least allow a vote on the war when the House reconvenes in November. In the letter, Jones, an RPI Advisory Board member, notes that Boehner has, by not allowing a vote, ignored the counsel of Jones and other representatives, as well as disregarded James Madison’s concise description of the congressional role in declaring US wars:
On August 27, 2014, I joined Congressman Jim McGovern and Congresswoman Barbara Lee in asking you to allow a debate and a vote on an authorization for the use of United States Armed Services in Iraq and Syria before Congress recessed at the end of September. I am disappointed we did not have a debate on such an authorization.

Those of us in both parties who believe in the Constitution, believe that Congress must debate and declare war. As James Madison wrote, “THE POWER TO DECLARE WAR, INCLUDING THE POWER OF JUDGING THE CAUSES OF WAR, IS FULLY AND EXCLUSIVELY VESTED IN THE LEGISLATURE.”

Mr. Speaker I am asking you to allow a full debate and vote on an authorization for the use of United States Armed Forces in Iraq and Syria when Congress reconvenes in November. Many members are asking for this to take place before the end of the year.
Jones’ plea is nothing more than that Boehner act in accord with what the Constitution and propriety demand — do what a House speaker should be expected to do without any prodding. With Boehner such pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears.
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