In War Powers Act Debate, Obama and Boehner Throw Past Quotes At One Another Revealing Inconsistencies

Jun 16, 2011 2:48pm

At the White House briefing today, press secretary Jay Carney read from a past quote by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to make the argument that Boehner wasn’t always so aggressive when it came to asserting that the president should seek congressional authorization for military actions consistent with the War Powers Act.

The quote was from April 28, 1999, when President Bill Clinton had the U.S. military involved in military intervention in the Balkans. Boehner’s office issued the statement in a press release titled “Don't Tie Hands of Future Presidents Over Kosovo President is Proper Architect of U. S. Foreign Policy – For Better or For Worse.”

Said then-Rep. Boehner in a statement: “The President of the United States is, and should remain, the chief architect of America’s foreign policy and the Commander-in- Chief of our armed forces. As distressed as many of us are over the Clinton Administration’s ill-conceived strategies in the Balkans, Congress must resist the temptation to take any action that would do further damage to the institution of the presidency itself. Invoking the constitutionally-suspect War Powers Act may halt our nation’s snowballing involvement in the Kosovo quagmire. But it is also likely to tie the hands of future presidents who will need the authority to lead in crises with less ambiguous implications for our national security. A strong presidency is a key pillar of the American system of government – the same system of government our military men and women are prepared to give their lives to defend.”

Carney called it “noteworthy” that the views expressed in the Speaker's letter to President Obama this week “stand in contrast to the views he expressed in 1999 when he called the War Powers Act, quote, ‘constitutionally suspect,’ unquote, and warned Congress to, quote, ‘resist the temptation to take any action that would do further damage to the institution of the presidency.’  I make an observation about that because I think it is worth noting in the current context.”

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck responded, saying that “regardless of any personal concerns, the speaker took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.  He has an institutional obligation to enforce the laws of the land – all of them – and protect the important role Congress plays in our national security policy.  He is fulfilling his duty to Congress and the American people, and – thus far – the White House has not done the same.”

Buck then referred a reporter to comments by then-Sen. Obama at DePaul University in October 2007, when he heralded the need for an assertive Congress in terms of the War Powers Act.

“After Vietnam, Congress swore it would never again be duped into war, and even wrote a new law — the War Powers Act — to ensure it would not repeat its mistakes,” then-Sen. Obama said. “But no law can force a Congress to stand up to the president. No law can make senators read the intelligence that showed the president was overstating the case for war. No law can give Congress a backbone if it refuses to stand up as the co-equal branch the Constitution made it.”

-Jake Tapper

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