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War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance

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Publication Date: February 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33532

Topic: Government (Central or federal government)
International relations (War)

Abstract:

Two separate but closely related issues confront Congress each time the President introduces armed forces into a situation abroad that conceivably could lead to their involvement in hostilities. One issue concerns the division of war powers between the President and Congress, whether the use of armed forces falls within the purview of the congressional power to declare war and the War Powers Resolution. The other issue is whether or not Congress concurs in the wisdom of the action. This report does not deal with the substantive merits of using armed forces in specific cases, but rather with the congressional authorization for the action and the application and effectiveness of the War Powers Resolution. The purpose of the War Powers Resolution (P.L. 93-148, passed over President Nixon's veto on November 7, 1973) is to ensure that Congress and the President share in making decisions that may get the United States involved in hostilities. Compliance becomes an issue whenever the President introduces U.S. forces abroad in situations that might be construed as hostilities or imminent hostilities. Criteria for compliance include prior consultation with Congress, fulfillment of the reporting requirements, and congressional authorization. If the President has not complied fully, the issue becomes what action Congress should take to bring about compliance or to influence U.S. policy. A related issue has been congressional authorization of U.N. peacekeeping or other U.N.-sponsored actions.

For over three decades, war powers and the War Powers Resolution have been an issue in U.S. military actions in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and Europe. Presidents have submitted 120 reports to Congress as a result of the War Powers Resolution, although only one (the Mayaguez situation) cited Section 4(a)(1) or specifically stated that forces had been introduced into hostilities or imminent hostilities. Congress invoked the War Powers Resolution in the Multinational Force in Lebanon Resolution (P.L. 98-119), which authorized the Marines to remain in Lebanon for 18 months. In addition, P.L. 102-1, authorizing the use of U.S. armed forces concerning the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, stated that it constituted specific statutory authorization within the meaning of the War Powers Resolution. On November 9, 1993, the House used a section of the War Powers Resolution to state that U.S. forces should be withdrawn from Somalia by March 31, 1994; Congress had already taken this action in appropriations legislation. More recently, war powers have been at issue in former Yugoslavia/Bosnia/Kosovo, Iraq, Haiti, and in military actions responding to terrorist attacks against the United States after September 11, 2001. After combat operations against Iraqi forces ended on February 28, 1991, the use of force to obtain Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions remained a War Powers issue, until the enactment of P.L. 107-243, in October 2002, which explicitly authorized the President to use force against Iraq, an authority he exercised in March 2003, and continues to exercise for military operations in Iraq.

A longer-term issue is whether the War Powers Resolution is an appropriate and effective means of assuring congressional participation in actions that might get the United States involved in war. Proposals have been made to strengthen, change, or repeal the resolution. None have been enacted to date. This report replaces Issue Brief IB81050 of the same name. This report will be updated as events warrant.