Kaine, McCain Introduce Bill To Reform War Powers Resolution

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Speaking together on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and John McCain introduced the War Powers Consultation Act of 2014 - bipartisan legislation that would reform the 1973 War Powers Resolution by strengthening the consultative process between Congress and the President on whether and when to engage in military action.

Senators Kaine and McCain initially announced their intention to review the War Powers Resolution in July 2013, describing it as “ineffective at establishing a consultative process between the executive and legislative branches of our government over our nation's most important decision – whether or not to send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way.” The issue of war powers gained additional attention surrounding the August 2013 debate on the authorization of military action in Syria. At that time, Senator Kaine urged President Obama to fully consult with Congress before initiating military action – a call to action spurred by his in-depth review of the current resolution.

“As the world becomes more dangerous and complex, and demands continue to increase for American leadership, we need to establish a better system of communication between the President, Congress and the American people, especially on decisions of war and peace,” said Senator Kaine. “If the President and Congress do not work together and find consensus in matters around war, we might be asking our men and women – in Virginia and across the country – to fight and potentially give their lives without a clear political consensus and agreement behind that mission.”

During his remarks, Senator Kaine argued that the debate over executive and legislative consultation on war powers dates back to the Constitution of 1787 with Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution which provides that “Congress shall have power . . . to declare war,” and  Article II, Section 2 designating the President is the “Commander in Chief” of the nation’s armed forces. Since that time, Congress has only formally declared war five times, but there have been more than one hundred cases where Presidents of both parties have initiated military action without prior Congressional approval.

“As we mark the 40th anniversary of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, we believe now is the time to start working together to update it,” said Senator McCain. “This issue deserves the attention of Congress. We owe it to those who protect our nation and to the American people.”

Read Senator Kaine’s full remarks here.

Read Senator McCain’s full remarks here.

The War Powers Consultation Act of 2014 would:

  • Repeal and replace the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
  • Codify the consultative process between Congress and the President on whether and when to initiate military action. Under the Act, the President must consult with Congress before ordering deployment into a “significant armed conflict,” or, combat operations lasting, or expected to last, more than seven days.
    • This would exclude humanitarian missions and covert operations (which are covered by another statutory scheme). In addition, if secrecy or other emergent circumstances preclude prior consultation, consultation may be deferred, but must be undertaken within three days.
  • Create a permanent Joint Congressional Consultation Committee in Congress that would consist of majority and ranking Members of the national security committees(Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Intelligence, and Appropriations) and the leader and ranking Member in each House of Congress to ensure there is a timely exchange of views between the legislative and executive branches, not just notification by the executive.
    • Committee members would have access to regular information on the process and the substance of national security matters and would meet with the President periodically. 
  • Detail Congressional procedures requiring that all members take a vote of support or opposition for any significant armed conflict within 30 days.  Under the Act, all Members of Congress would eventually be asked to vote on decisions of war in order to ensure a deliberate public discussion in the full view of the American public, increasing the knowledge of the population and the accountability of our elected officials.

In 2007, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia empanelled a bipartisan National War Powers Commission, led by former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher.  After a 14 month process including legislative, administrative, diplomatic, military and academic leadership, the Commission issued a unanimous report to the President and Congress, urging the repeal of the War Powers Resolution. In addition, the report outlined principles for a replacement measure designed to promote transparent dialogue and clear decision-making.  McCain and Kaine have spotlighted the Commission’s report as a strong starting point for their legislation that would preserve the constitutional powers of each branch while establishing a straightforward and constitutionally sound process. The House and Senate Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations committees also held hearings on the report in the spring of 2008.

“I am heartened to see that Senators McCain and Kaine have introduced what essentially is the draft legislation recommended by the National War Powers Commission,” said James Baker, III, the 61st U.S. Secretary of State who chaired the National War Powers Commission from 2007-2008 with former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. “I am confident the politically diverse members of our bipartisan commission are equally encouraged, as would be my friend and commission co-chair, the late Secretary of State Warren Christopher. The decision to send America’s men and women into battle is the most important one that the president makes. The  approach that the two senators are now advocating increases the chances that presidents and Congress will consult meaningfully and deliberate before committing the nation to war. I hope that the Obama Administration will support their efforts to make it law.”

“The War Powers Consultation Act of 2014 offers a practical, fair and realistic approach to getting the President and the Congress to consult meaningfully and deliberate carefully before committing the country to war,” said Lee Hamilton, former U.S. Congressman and Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs who was a member of the National War Powers Commission and currently serves as the Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. “Under this law, our country will benefit as our leaders work together to reach the wisest possible decisions about our national security.” 

“Words of war are cheap. Wars themselves are not. They have consequences and should not be entered into without informed discussion between the White House and Congress,” said Gerald L. Baliles, former Governor of Virginia who currently serves as Director and CEO of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. “The War Powers Consultation Act of 2014 provides a pragmatic, bipartisan approach to deal with a problem that has bedeviled a host of presidents and the Congress for more than 200 years.”

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