The time is drawing near for a constitutional confrontation between Congress and the president.
President Bush is proceeding with the escalation of the war in Iraq and practically daring Democrats to do anything about it. US News reports that conservatives are advising Bush to push through as much as he can by executive orders during the last two years of his term.
Mike Gravel, who opposed the Vietnam war as a senator from Alaska in the late 1960s and '70s, is running a populist campaign for president. Now he's calling for Congress to end another ill-conceived war. "Iraq's oil is not worth the life of one more American," he said recently.
"The Constitution grants the Congress the power to declare war and implicitly to end war," he said. "The Democrats in the House have the numbers to pass legislation to end the war. They don't need another week of debates, the subject has been amply covered. Once the Republicans filibuster in the Senate, it will be clear to the American people and the media that the Republicans are continuing the war. This will be enhanced if Leader Reid brings up the House bill for a cloture vote each day until cloture is invoked. In the interim he can lay aside the bill so the Senate can do other business.
"This is the same tactic that Senate Leader Mike Mansfield used to permit me to filibuster the military draft, forcing its expiration, back in 1971," Gravel added. "I predict that after weeks of national attention, ten Republicans will wither and the bill will pass.
"After passage by both Houses of Congress, the bill is sent to the president, who can either accept the bill and end the war in an orderly manner, or he can veto it," he said. "My guess he will veto it, since he places greater value on God's direct messages to him than on any message from the Congress or from the American people. In the event of a veto, the bill ending the war goes back to the Congress and can only become law with a two-thirds vote of the House and the Senate."
Gravel called the Democratic leadership's tactic of passing a non-binding resolution "meaningless." Nor does he believe Congress can simply stop the surge but let the war go on.
"The president is the commander-in-chief whose responsibility under the Constitution is to prosecute military actions. For the Democrats in the Congress to unconstitutionally micromanage the war only plays into the hands of Republicans, who can now raise reasonable constitutional arguments and obfuscate direct action with procedural votes rather than let the Congress end the war now.
"In the recent vote on the toothless non-binding resolution, the Republican House leadership was surprised that they lost only 17 of their colleagues when they expected to lose more than 50. Unfortunately, the tactics of the House Democrats gave the Republicans political cover. Those 50 Republican votes would be sufficient to override a veto in the House," he said.
"However, with specific legislation to end the war &endash; clear to all &endash; there is no possible cover. A vote to override a veto would be an unambiguous vote to end the war. The eyes of the nation would be riveted on that vote. There would be no place to hide from the judgment of the people in 2008.
"I predict, if the vote is properly handled, the Congress will override President Bush's veto. If not, there will be considerably fewer Republicans in the next Congress. With the veto overridden, President Bush will have to end his war for oil or be impeached. The American people would demand it."
We disagree with Gravel's opinion that an anti-surge resolution is unconstitutional. The spin that congressional "interference" in deployment of US military to Iraq amounts to micromanaging ignores that the Constitution, in Article I, Section 8, gives Congress the power of appropriation, regulation and oversight of the military.
Of course, Article I, Section 9, says that habeas corpus -- or the right to challenge detention in court -- shall not be suspended "unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." But it's an open question as to whether the Supreme Court will find that section is still "operative." The Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. recently ruled that Congress could deny inmates of the Guantanamo detention camp the right to challenge their confinement in court.
(While our courts defer to extraconstitutional claims of presidential authority, Canada's Supreme Court, by a 9-0 vote, on Feb. 23 struck down a law that the government used to detain foreign-born terrorism suspects indefinitely without charges. So we are taking lessons on protecting human rights and civil liberties from our neighbors up north.)
In his speech to the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting Feb. 3, Gravel said that anyone who voted for the war, based on what President Bush represented, is not qualified to hold the office of president. That leaves him, Dennis Kucinich and Barack Obama among the leading contenders.
Gravel, in addition to leading the effort to do away with the draft in 1971, also helped clear the way for publication of the Pentagon Papers by reading much of it into the Congressional Record. He is 76 but, as William Greider recently wrote, "He is still speaking truth to power. They can't shut him up."
It might seem early to take sides in the 2008 presidential race, but things are moving quickly, as more states plan to move their primaries ahead on the calendar to compete with Iowa and New Hampshire. Friends of Bill and Hillary Clinton had hoped to stack the deck for her nomination by this spring, but Barack Obama might just be the wild card who trumps the former first lady's ambitions.
The freshman senator from Illinois drew a racially mixed and multigenerational crowd of 20,000 to a riverside park in downtown Austin on Feb. 23. His speech was rambling at times and he was long on rhetoric on bringing the nation together, withdrawing from Iraq, providing access to health care and better educational opportunities while he was short on specifics. But the crowd stayed and cheered him on despite light rain. Obama concluded by urging supporters to enlist their friends to get involved. "Tell 'em it's time for you to turn off the TV and stop playing GameBoy," he said. "We've got work to do."
We are resisting the Obama Kool-Aid for now, but note that he drew 17,000 in freezing weather outside the old state capitol in Springfield, Ill., to cheer his campaign announcement on Feb. 10, rallied 5,000 in Ames, Iowa, the next day and 3,500 in Durham, N.H., on Feb. 12, then 9,000 in Los Angeles on Feb. 20. These crowds are remarkable a year before the first caucuses. Comparisons to Jack Kennedy are cropping up.
We are still attracted to the populist rhetoric of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. He has moved to the left since his 2004 experience as John Kerry's running mate, and he appears well positioned to fill the vacuum in Iowa as former Gov. Tom Vilsack has dropped from the race. (See johnedwards.com.)
We also find much to admire in the agendas of Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Sen. Mike Gravel. Both advocate a single-payer health plan (Kucinich is co-sponsor of the Medicare-For-All expansion bill) and a quick withdrawal from Iraq. Kucinich also proposes to withdraw the US from the World Trade Organization and NAFTA, repeal the Patriot Act and restore rural communities and family farms, among other things (see kucinich.us). Gravel proposes to implement a national initiative and referendum process, to replace the income tax with a progressive national sales tax and to undertake a massive effort to develop and implement new technology to end energy dependence on oil (see gravel2008.us).
If you want to see them in 2008, you'd better support them now. -- JMC
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