Mark Pocan

Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Town of Vermont, voted last week with the House majority in favor of a resolution "to terminate the use of United States armed forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran.”

“It’s time we reclaim our constitutional authority over military action from presidents intent on fighting forever wars,” Congressman Mark Pocan declared last week. To that end, he cast one of 224 House votes for a resolution “directing the president pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution to terminate the use of United States armed forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran.”

As part of the House majority that finally pushed back against an imperial presidency, the Town of Vermont Democrat recognized the historical significance of the Jan. 9 vote.

“Today,” Pocan announced, “Congress asserted its constitutional authority over military action and passed a resolution pursuant to the War Powers Act to restrain President Trump’s continued reckless actions against Iran. We have no trust in an administration that has provided zero evidence of an imminent threat to America, destroyed all diplomatic channels with Iran, and deployed over 15,000 additional troops to the Middle East since last May. The American people do not want an endless war with Iran, they want diplomacy and de-escalation.”

Pocan is hoping that the House and the Senate will do more to restore a proper balance to decisions about war and peace. “Now,” he said, “Congress must also move forward in passing Rep. Barbara Lee’s legislation to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq and Rep. Ro Khanna’s legislation prohibiting funding for a war with Iran. Congress has been silent for too long — it’s time we reclaim our constitutional authority over military action from presidents intent on fighting forever wars.”

That’s a sound vision for upholding the commitment that members of the House make at the start of each term to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” At the heart of that oath is a commitment to a system of separated powers in which the House has a duty to check and balance the executive.

Clearly, Pocan gets it.

But what of the 194 congressional ciphers who voted against the resolution? What about the House members who abandoned their oaths, dismissed the dictates of the Constitution, and signaled that they are ready and willing to preserve an imperial presidency?

Of the 194 “no” votes, eight came from Democrats: Ben McAdams (Utah), Anthony Brindisi (New York), Joe Cunningham (South Carolina), Kendra Horn (Oklahoma), Stephanie Murphy (Florida), Josh Gottheimer (North Jersey), and Elaine Luria (Virginia). Their votes were wrongheaded, and every bit as disappointing as Republican votes against the resolution.

The vast majority of House Democrats took the side of checking and balancing the president. (Pocan and Congressman Ron Kind of La Crosse, were co-sponsors of the resolution, which Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Milwaukee ardently supported — with a declaration that “Congress must reassert its war powers authority.”)

The vast majority of Republicans chose a different course. Only three House Republicans sided with the Constitution: Thomas Massie of Kentucky and two Floridians: Francis Rooney and Matt Gaetz. They were joined by Michigan independent Justin Amash.

A stunning 186 Republicans (Including Wisconsin Reps. Bryan Steil of Janesville, Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls, Glenn Grothman of Glenbeulah and Mike Gallagher of Green Bay) fell in line with Trump’s call for members of his adopted party to choose him over their oath.

The president issued that call in a tweet: “Hope that all House Republicans will vote against Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s War Powers Resolution. Also, remember her “speed & rush” in getting the Impeachment Hoax voted on & done. Well, she never sent the Articles to the Senate. Just another Democrat fraud. Presidential Harassment!”

But the resolution was not a fraud. It was a necessary response to a president who has disregarded the system of governance outlined at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. On Thursday, Amash explained: “The administration has provided no evidence to qualify its recent military action as a necessary defensive response to an imminent attack. Moreover, it absurdly relies on the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force and Article II of the Constitution as legal justifications. The 2002 AUMF provides for war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq regime. It is not a valid authorization for any current engagement in Iraq, and it certainly does not apply to actions against Iran. Article II is not an independent grant of authority for nondefensive military action. The president’s role as commander in chief no more allows him to enter offensively into conflicts than his role as executive allows him to make laws.”

Amash, who was elected repeatedly as a libertarian-leaning Republican from a conservative district in western Michigan, made that statement as the chamber’s lone independent member. He left the GOP last year, out of frustration with Trump’s abuses of power — and Republican failures to counter them.

But it is important to recognize that there is no Democratic or Republican or independent way to read the Constitution when it comes to the exercise of war powers. As Pocan, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said, “Congress holds the sole power to declare war, and we refuse to let Donald Trump wage a wholly avoidable and endless war with Iran.”

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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