In April 2019, Congress solid a historic vote. For the primary time, each chambers made use of the Warfare Powers Decision (WPR, Public Legislation 93-148), a decision handed within the waning days of the Vietnam Warfare to revive congressional authority in deciding when the nation goes to warfare, and directed President Trump to cease U.S. participation within the warfare in Yemen. Though Congress in the end didn’t override Trumps presidential veto, just one 12 months later, Congress acted upon the WPR once more. This time, Congress sought to limit President Trump’s means to make use of power in opposition to Iran and determined to ‘direct the removing of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran that haven’t been licensed by Congress’ (U.S. Congress 2020). Once more, President Trump vetoed the decision, stating that the decision’s understanding of restricted presidential energy ‘is wrong’, as a result of ‘the Structure acknowledges that the president should be capable to anticipate our adversaries’ subsequent strikes and take swift and decisive motion in response’ (Trump 2020). Then Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden urged Congress to override President Trump’s veto, nonetheless, and to say itself in opposition to presidential war-making. In his assertion, Biden condemned President Trump’s veto and ‘his contempt for the U.S. Congress as a co-equal department of presidency’ and added that, as president, he ‘will work intently with Congress on choices to make use of power, not dismiss congressional laws’ (Biden 2020).

At this level, it’s price remembering President Barack Obama, who, as presidential candidate, promised fairly an analogous strategy to the politics of army interventions and the function of Congress. In an interview with the Boston Globe in December 2007, Obama said that the president ‘doesn’t have energy below the Structure to unilaterally authorize a army assault in a scenario that doesn’t contain stopping an precise or imminent risk to the nation’ (Obama 2007). Nonetheless, he acted in any other case. Throughout the army intervention in Libya 2011, Obama adopted the authorized interpretation of Harold H. Koh, Authorized Adviser to the State Division, in line with which the army intervention in Libya was in keeping with the WPR and didn’t require congressional authorization, ‘as a result of U.S. army operations are distinct from the form of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the Decision’s 60 day termination provision’ (U.S. Division of State 2011: 25). Following this interpretation, which the New York Times known as ‘authorized acrobatics’, the president might unilaterally wage warfare in opposition to a rustic so long as the USA was solely engaged in air strikes and anticipated no or few casualties, due to this fact strengthening the conviction that presidents possess inherent warfare powers independently from Congress (Pious 2007; Yoo 2005)

Though the framers of the structure acknowledged that within the occasion of a sudden assault the President as ‘Commander in Chief’ had the responsibility to guard the mainland and the troops of the USA, the ‘President by no means obtained a basic energy to deploy troops at any time when and wherever he thought greatest, and the framers didn’t authorize him to take the nation into full-scale warfare or to mount an offensive assault in opposition to one other nation’, in line with Louis Fisher (2013: 8-9), one of many main students on U.S. warfare powers. It was throughout the presidency of Richard Nixon and the ultimate section of the Vietnam Warfare in 1973 that legislators realized they wanted to say themselves in opposition to a presidency which usurped increasingly more powers from Congress and led the nation into an undeclared warfare.

As a way to roll again what Arthur Schlesinger (2005 [1973]) has termed and what later has grow to be extensively generally known as the ‘Imperial Presidency’, Congress adopted the WPR in opposition to Nixon’s veto and offered itself with a number of procedures and legislative measures to restrict presidential war-making and restore the ‘steadiness of energy’ envisaged by the framers of the structure. Two measures are particularly essential and noteworthy: first, part 5(b) of the WPR directs the president to terminate any use of U.S. armed forces in hostilities which haven’t been licensed or declared by Congress inside sixty days, and second, part 5(c) gives Congress with the power to direct the president to take away armed forces engaged in hostilities outdoors the territory of the USA by a concurrent decision which, in contrast to different resolutions, doesn’t require presidential approval. Though this mechanism has been up to date to comprise joint resolutions as nicely, since a Supreme Court ruling deemed legislative vetoes by concurrent resolutions unconstitutional, neither the Home nor the Senate handed such laws till April 2019, and Congress failed to totally make the most of its devices to curtail presidential energy within the area of army interventions.

The query this text tries to reply is due to this fact simple: will Joe Biden, because the 46th president, comply with Trump’s footsteps and toss away his promise to acknowledge Congress as a ‘co-equal department of presidency’, as Obama did in Libya 2011, or will lawmakers efficiently reign within the ‘Imperial Presidency’ and prepare for a brand new relationship between the presidency and Congress? In different phrases, what can we count on for the way forward for executive-legislative relations on the subject of the usage of army power?

The Historic Report: Joe Biden and the Powers to Wage Warfare

As president, Biden may have a congressional document in contrast to most different presidents earlier than him. As one in every of 17 presidents, Biden served within the Senate earlier than, the place he represented Delaware from 1973 to 2009. This can make him the president with the longest time within the Senate, superseding Lyndon B. Johnson who represented Texas from 1949–1961. Throughout his decades-long tenure as senator, Biden not solely voted on the WPR in 1973, however was concerned within the authorization of each main army intervention of the USA up till 2009, when Biden turned vice-president of the USA. This consists of the warfare in Afghanistan and the following warfare in Iraq in addition to a number of army interventions throughout and after the Chilly Warfare. In truth, Biden voted to authorize the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, together with the Gulf Warfare in 1991 and the aerial warfare in Kosovo in opposition to Serbia in 1999, though this authorization didn’t grow to be legislation as a result of it didn’t move the Home of Representatives by a vote of 213:213 in April 1999.

Moreover these main authorizations, Biden was concerned in lots of different votes relating to the usage of army power, lots of them limiting presidential war-making. In truth, Congress can’t solely prohibit the president’s energy to wage warfare by its 1973 WPR, however by different legislative means as nicely. These embody funding limitations in addition to limitations on the scope and period of the usage of army power, or by offering the situations below which U.S. troops will be deployed in hostilities by annual appropriation and authorization payments, which act as automobiles for restrictions by their relevance as ‘should move’ legislations (Howell/Pevehouse 2007: 10-17, for an summary of congressional votes on the usage of power overseas see this report of the Congressional Analysis Service).

Contemplating these other ways to restrict presidential war-making, a barely totally different image of Joe Biden emerges, one through which he not solely licensed presidential war-making on many situations, but in addition one through which he was keen to curtail it as nicely.

Determine 1: Congressional Votes of Joe Biden on the Use of Army Pressure Overseas

Observe: Votes on motions to desk a decision have been inverted, with a purpose to make them comparable with votes explicitly for limitations on presidential warfare powers. SoC stands for non-binding Sense of Congress resolutions. The whole checklist of votes will be obtained from the creator.

The determine above plots Joe Biden’s authorization votes on every main occasion involving the usage of army power by the U.S. over time in addition to the other ways Congress can restrict the president’s energy to wage warfare.[1] Three conclusions will be drawn from this depiction. First, though Biden voted to authorize nearly each main use of power, there are three situations through which Biden didn’t authorize the usage of army power: the army interventions in Lebanon 1983, in Panama 1989 and in Iraq 1991. Throughout the intervention in Lebanon 1983, for instance, Biden voted in opposition to a compromise resolution that licensed the continuing deployment of U.S. forces in Lebanon for an extra 18 months below the WPR. As an alternative, he voted for 2 amendments which might have prolonged the sixty days deadline of the WPR for an additional sixty days and decided that hostilities in line with the WPR exist, due to this fact forcing the president to stick to the restrictions of the WPR (each amendments didn’t make it into the decision and died throughout the legislative course of). After all, this doesn’t show that Biden opposed the usage of army power in Lebanon per se, nevertheless it does present that Biden was actually conscious of the broad timeline Congress would have given President Reagan by its compromise decision.

Second, though Biden appears to have been reluctant to set binding restrictions on ongoing army operations, there are two circumstances the place Biden voted to restrict presidential war-making. In 1995 Biden voted for a decision that might have licensed President Clinton to make use of armed forces to implement the Dayton Settlement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however just for ‘roughly one 12 months’ (U.S. Congress 1995), whereas in 2007, Biden voted for a binding timeline to withdraw American troops from Iraq, revising his resolution in 2002 to authorize the Iraq Warfare. Particularly the Iraq vote is essential as Biden was the Chair of the International Relations Committee throughout the authorization vote in October 2002 and one of many key Democrats who supported the AUMF, resulting in Biden’s ‘checkered historical past with Iraq’ (Golshan/Ward 2019).

Third, though Biden appears to have been keen to restrict presidential war-making for Republican in addition to Democratic presidents – from 14 votes to limit the president, six had been below Republican and eight below Democratic presidents – Biden largely avoided utilizing the ability of the purse to set limitations. The determine above exhibits that whereas Biden was constantly keen to vote for non-binding funding limitations by Sense of Congress (SoC) resolutions, the one occasion the place Biden set a minor limitation by the funding of army operations occurred throughout the army intervention in Somalia 1993, when Biden voted to undertake an amendment that permitted the usage of funds for the mission in Somalia after March 31, 1994 solely, if the president sought and Congress offered particular authorization.

Admittedly, the query stays if we are able to infer from Senator Joe Biden’s earlier voting conduct how Biden will act as a president, outfitted with broad presidential (warfare) powers? Hendrickson (2010, 205) argues for the early Obama administration for instance that Obama’s and Biden’s ‘earlier views on congressional warfare powers will not be […] the guiding constitutional ideas that form their relationship with the Congress’, as a result of ‘as for earlier presidents, assertiveness as commander in chief is an institutional sample within the conduct of the manager department’. Certainly, Obama accepted these institutional patterns throughout the Libya intervention and acted unilaterally with out congressional help.

Nonetheless, in 2020, two issues stand in favor of Joe Biden’s promise to acknowledge Congress as a ‘co-equal department of presidency’. First, Obama realized from the congressional opposition to his unilateral motion in Libya that congressional help is certainly a significant asset in war-making. In 2013, Obama determined to hunt congressional approval for a army strike in retaliation for a chemical weapons assault by the Syrian authorities, breaking with the custom of utilizing army power with out congressional permission. Second, in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, Biden claimed that he strongly argued in opposition to an intervention in Libya throughout the administration and, because the ‘Afghanistan Papers’ revealed, was one of many ardent opponents of Obama’s resolution in 2009 for a troop surge in Afghanistan. Subsequently, it appears doubtless that Biden realized from the Libya debacle and is aware of about Congress’ function and affect on public help for army interventions (Howell/Pevehouse 2007; Kriner 2018).

The Different Facet of the Coin: Congressional Motion to Restrict Presidential Warfare Powers

That presidents normally prevail in overseas coverage is just not solely a consequence of ‘presidential rapacity’, which, in line with Biden’s legislative document, is much less prone to happen throughout his presidency, however from ‘congressional pusillanimity’ as nicely, as Schlesinger (2005: x) famous in his seminal work on the ‘Imperial Presidency’. In truth, if Congress actually needs to revive the constitutional steadiness between Congress and the presidency, lawmakers not solely must make use of their implicit devices to manage and examine presidential energy, equivalent to hearings and congressional investigations that may deter the presidency from any unilateral actions, but in addition Congress’ actual legislative powers. Moreover utilizing these powers in potential confrontations that loom forward for the subsequent presidential time period, such because the potential unilateral use of power in opposition to Iran which Congress just lately tried to dam, two fundamental legislative mechanisms are clearly in want of enchancment. First, the Authorization for Use of Army Pressure (AUMF, Public Legislation 107-40) from 2001, which was initially adopted to authorize the warfare in Afghanistan after 9/11 however has currently grow to be a catch-all legitimation for nearly any use of army power, and second, the WPR itself, which has didn’t successfully relocate energy again from the president to Congress since its adoption in 1973.

The AUMF 2001, which was adopted by Congress solely three days after the terrorist assaults of 9/11, licensed President Bush ‘to make use of all vital and applicable power in opposition to these nations, organizations, or individuals he determines deliberate, licensed, dedicated, or aided the terrorist assaults’ (U.S. Congress 2001), giving Bush and his successors in workplace a clean cheque to make use of power in opposition to terrorism wherever they wished. Though a number of resolutions tried to repair this imbalance and aimed toward reasserting the function of Congress in deciding the place army power must be performed, none of those legislative measures have made it by Congress, leaving the 2001 AUMF, in addition to the 2002 AUMF in opposition to Iraq, nonetheless in place.

Nonetheless, two latest makes an attempt are noteworthy. First, in 2018, Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) got here up with a joint decision to repeal the 2002 AUMF and change the 2001 AUMF with an up to date and extra tailor-made authorization. Based on their 2018 AUMF proposal, the president would have been licensed ‘to make use of all vital and applicable power in opposition to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)’ (U.S. Congress 2018), in addition to its related forces. Throughout and after hearings within the International Relations and the Homeland Safety and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Administration, lawmakers and specialists sharply criticized the proposed AUMF, nonetheless. The brand new AUMF, the opponents argued, would cement the established order and provides Trump and his successors the power to unilaterally wage warfare wherever they preferred. Finally, the decision, in addition to a proposal by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in response to the criticism couldn’t garner sufficient help to make its method onto the ground of the Senate.

Throughout the expiring latest legislative interval, a promising try has been made by a number of lawmakers within the Home of Representatives, who got here up with a bipartisan compromise resolution (Herr et al. 2020). The brand new decision would go away the 2001 AUMF in place, however would restrict its scope to ongoing hostilities and prohibit future makes use of of power to be justified with it. Based on the bipartisan coalition, which tries to revive congressional authority, the decision ‘is neither an try and repeal the authorization nor a press release on present or earlier U.S. army actions’, however ‘would put constitutional guardrails on the additional growth of an nearly two-decades-old authorization’ (Brown et al. 2020).

Though the proposal would go away future presidents with ample room of maneuver and though it reaches out to a Republican managed Senate and unifies totally different ideological positions on the usage of army power as nicely, its prospects for fulfillment are dim. Even when Biden would help, or a minimum of not hinder, such a congressional effort, there are not any indicators of rising bipartisanship within the close to future, which proved to be a major situation for congressional motion (Böller/Müller 2018). Moreover, within the gentle of the rampant Covid pandemic and its financial penalties in the USA, updating an nearly 20 years outdated laws is unlikely to be on prime of Congress’ political agenda.

The identical destiny will doubtless be true for an replace of the 1973 WPR. The newest try and reform the WPR was made by Senator Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Consultant Anthony Brown (D-MD), who launched the War Powers Reform Resolution. This legislative try goals at amending the WPR with a brand new part that might restrict new AUMF’s to a most of two years and prohibit the usage of appropriated funds for the unauthorized introduction or use of United States Armed Forces into hostilities. Nonetheless, the reform decision would retain the sixty-days deadline, which permits the president to make use of army power for sixty days with out congressional authorization. The sixty-days clock has been recognized as one of many main issues of the WPR, as a result of, in line with Tess Bridgeman and Stephen Pomper, it ‘has been handled by each of the political branches as kind of free time throughout which the president is permitted to launch operations’ (Bridgeman/Pomper 2020). However the average modifications proposed, the reform decision has not managed to achieve any legislative observe because it was launched a 12 months in the past and it stays to be seen if the brand new Congress will decide up on this strategy.


This text has argued that two elements are essential for turning again the ‘Imperial Presidency’ and for restoring Congress’ constitutional rights and duties on the subject of the usage of army power. First, presidents want to actually acknowledge Congress as a co-equal department of presidency and act accordingly, and second, Congress generally and lawmakers particularly should not solely look forward to presidential generosity, however confidently use their constitutional powers to ascertain binding limits on the president’s energy to wage warfare. An evaluation of Biden’s historical past as a senator in addition to latest legislative measures exhibits that the prospects for an emancipated relationship between the Congress and the presidency might need risen a little bit bit.

Biden’s document as a senator signifies that he’s not solely conscious of the issue of an ever-expanding presidency, but in addition of Congress’ impartial powers on the subject of the usage of army power. Throughout his decades-long tenure within the Senate, Biden repeatedly voted to restrict presidential war-making each by the WPR and Congress’ different legislative means to place limitations on army operations. As well as, Biden served as vice chairman throughout the Obama administration and witnessed first-hand Congress’ opposition when Obama contradicted his personal guarantees that presidents can’t wage warfare with out congressional approval throughout the army intervention in Libya 2011.

Restoring congressional standing is dependent upon repelling the 2001 and 2002 AUMF in addition to reforming the 1973 WPR. Not solely do the almost two-decades outdated AUMF’s act as catch-all legitimations for ongoing and potential army operations, the historical past of the WPR additionally exhibits its deficiencies in restoring Congress’ function in deciding if army power is getting used. Though the outlook for repelling each AUMF’s and for reforming the WPR appear to be dim, lawmakers have signaled over the last two years that they’re keen to implement their constitutional and legislative rights. It stays to be seen if enough Republicans and Democrats are keen to cross the aisle sooner or later or if the average bipartisanship we’ve got seen within the final two years ends together with the presidency of Donald Trump.


[1] These embody the Vietnam Warfare 1973-1976, the usage of army power in Lebanon 1982-1983, the U.S.-Invasion in Grenada 1983 and in Panama 1989-1990, the Gulf Warfare in 1991, the makes use of of army power in Somalia 1992-1994, in Haiti 1993-1994, in Bosnia 1993-1995, and in Kosovo 1999, in addition to the wars in Afghanistan 2001-2008 and in Iraq 2003-2008.


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