Reps. Jones and McGovern In-Depth Discussion of Congress’ Constitutional War Powers

by | May 5, 2015

Friday morning, viewers of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal were treated to nearly an hour of in-depth discussion among Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and James McGovern (D-MA) and show host Peter Slen regarding the representatives’ efforts to bring to the United States House of Representatives floor debates and votes on whether to end or continue the US government’s various wars. The representatives, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, also discuss their newly created Constitutional War Study Group that will seek to regularly gather Congress members for education related to Congress’ constitutional war powers.

Both Jones and McGovern lament at the beginning of the discussion Congress’ failure to play its important, constitutional role regarding wars. Jones quotes James Madison’s counsel that “the power to declare war, including the power of judging the causes of war, is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature” before proceeding to note how far the actions of Congress have drifted from Madison’s advice. Jones explains:

We have no debates. The only time we have a debate is when they are asking for money — millions and billions of dollars to send overseas. Mr. McGovern and I, and other members in both parties, have been very outspoken about our constitutional responsibility before we send young men and women to give their limbs and their life. That’s the reason we wanted to put this study group together, because we believe members of Congress should have an opportunity [to meet in the Constitutional War Study Group]…. I will host once a month, and Jim will host, and bring in speakers — people who know what our constitutional responsibility is — to try to educate our colleagues to feel more responsible for these young men and women who have given their life.

In response to a query by the host, McGovern, in turn, examines the legislative branch’s failure to meet its constitutional responsibilities regarding war, as well as the motivation behind that failure:

Slen: What currently, Mr. McGovern, is the role of Congress when it comes to declaring war or pursuing warfare.

McGovern: Well, we are supposed to have a role in declaring war, and, under the War Powers Resolution, we are supposed to have a role if the president commits troops into combat operations…. War’s a big deal, and Congress doesn’t treat it as a big deal. We debate defense appropriation bills and defense authorization bills; we don’t talk about what is going on in Afghanistan or Iraq or now in Syria. We try to offer amendments, and oftentimes they are denied so we don’t have the opportunity to debate these issues on the House floor, and I think that is a great disservice to the men and women who serve in our armed forces, as Walter mentioned.

Congress is basically abrogating its responsibility. And you can’t have it both ways. You can’t sit back and criticize the president for committing troops into another war in Iraq and in Syria, but then say: ‘But I don’t want to do my job. I don’t want to vote yes or no on it.’ It’s too easy for congress to just kind of stand back and let it all happen, because, if it goes bad you can say ‘I told you it was going to go bad’ and if it goes good you can say ‘well, I was with them all the way.’ And what we’re trying to do is force our colleagues, force the leadership, to do what Congress is supposed to do — debate and vote on these things.

Among the matters addressed in detail during the discussion are Jones and McGovern’s ongoing effort to ensure House floor debates and votes on whether the Afghanistan and Islamic State (ISIS) wars should continue or end.

Watch here the complete interview chock-full of bold and insightful commentary on issues of war very different from what you will hear from most congressional members:


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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