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Congress Asks Obama, 'Why No Declaration Of War?'

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Congress Asks Obama, 'Why No Declaration Of War?'

Politics

Congress Asks Obama, 'Why No Declaration Of War?'

Congress Asks Obama, 'Why No Declaration Of War?'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134797543/134797538" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Republican representing 6th district of Maryland
Rep. John Larson, Democrat representing 1st district of Connecticut

An unusual congressional alliance is taking President Obama to task for failing to seek a declaration of war in Libya. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R.-Md., and Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., both say the president is out of line, despite most members of their parties backing the no-fly zone.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Health care turns one today. Get used to the T-Paw moniker, he's running for president. And a bumpy flight for Senator McCaskill. It's Wednesday and time for an accountability edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Where's the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. This week, the GOP field for president swelled all the way to three as Tim Pawlenty formed an exploratory committee. Sarah Palin looked for foreign policy cred in Israel. And blast from the past, her opening gun, Rudy Giuliani hit New Hampshire.

Kansas City elected a new mayor yesterday. Two races in Florida aren't as clear-cut. A judge put Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's law to limit the rights of public workers on hold.

In a few minutes, we'll talk with Representatives Roscoe Bartlett and John Larson about Libya and Congress. Later in the program, Newark Mayor Cory Booker welcomes the men's' sweet 16. But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: That's true, Neal, but we're going to start with something even earlier than that. I keep getting a lot of emails all the time saying that the political - the trivia question is one of their favorite things of the week, but the questions have been too hard.

CONAN: OK.

RUDIN: So I get these emails all the time. So Ann(ph) in Lutsen, Minnesota, this is for her because she keeps saying that they're too hard. OK, who was president after George W. Bush? OK, so who was president of the United States after George W. Bush? So Ann could answer that one.

OK, that didn't work anywhere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: OK, things - here's the trivia question. As things stand today, and of course they could change, the Senate race next year in Virginia could pit Tim Kaine against George Allen. They're two former governors. When was the last time two former governors ran against each other for the Senate.

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to the trivia question this week - when was the last time two former governors faced each other in a race for the United States Senate - give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Of course, the winner gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt.

And, well, no prize would sound pretty good this week to Senator Claire McCaskill.

RUDIN: Oh my goodness. Well, first of all, there were two things involved here. She has - she owns - she and her husband own this private plane. And she has been taking trips on Senate business on this plane, which she's allowed to do.

But apparently, she's been booking - she's been billing taxpayers for these trips. And at least one of them, perhaps as many as two or three, have been overtly political trips.

And again, for somebody like Claire McCaskill who has criticized others in the past for doing exactly that, that's not good political smarts.

CONAN: And she admitted this week, when reports came out, that she owes nearly $300,000 in back taxes on the private plane she owns with her husband.

Senator CLAIRE McCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri): I have convinced my husband to sell the damn plane. He has hired a broker, and I can tell you I will not be setting foot on the plane ever again.

I know what people are going to think about this because I know exactly what I would think: How in the world did something like this happen?

CONAN: And, well, that's the question that's going to be asked by a lot of people. Nor did this escape the attention of the Republican Senatorial Committee, which quickly put together an ad.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #1: McCaskill used a flight charter company that she has an ownership stake in. McCaskill charged 89 flights to taxpayers.

Unidentified Woman #2: McCaskill's Senate office has paid for her to use 89 times at taxpayers' expense.

Unidentified Man #1: Missouri senior senator cut a check to taxpayers, hoping to...

Unidentified Man #2: ...used 89 times at taxpayers' expense.

Unidentified Woman #2: She billed taxpayers $76,000 for flights on a charter plane she co-owned.

Sen. McCASKILL: I want to be held accountable. I expect to be held accountable.

CONAN: And it goes on. But boy, that's terrible.

RUDIN: It is, and again, the election is a year from now. But the two problems are: If you remember when the Tea Party first came to notice in the summer of 2009, it was at a town hall forum conducted by Claire McCaskill.

So you know the anger is out there. You know that President Obama, who was not popular in Missouri in 2008, perhaps less popular in 2012. And again, as I said, she has been somebody - Claire McCaskill has been somebody who has been talking, lecturing if you will, about fiscal responsibility. And this stuff shouldn't happen.

CONAN: And indeed, when Tom Daschle got caught up in some tax problems, he had to back out of his appointment to a Cabinet position a couple of years ago, and this is what McCaskill had to say at that time.

Sen. McCASKILL: I get the rules around here. The rules are you live in a glass house. And if you make a serious mistake like this, you pay the price.

CONAN: People who live in glass houses shouldn't take flights.

RUDIN: Exactly. The Republicans are calling it Claire Air, and again, we're talking about a year from now. But this is the thing that could ultimately bring down an incumbent.

CONAN: Well, I have to see how that plays out, and obviously a lot depends on who she's going to be facing come the election. And it depends a lot who you're running against.

RUDIN: There are a lot of Republicans running for that seat, right, exactly.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have another Republican declaring - well, I guess the first major Republican to declare for president of the United States, the GOP nomination, the former governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty.

RUDIN: Exactly, well, of course it's an exploratory committee. Legally, there's not much difference. But, you know, he did this video on Facebook, a two-minute video where he was basically the first, top-tier Republican to do so. Newt Gingrich, of course, is testing the waters.

CONAN: Maybe he will, maybe he won't.

RUDIN: Exactly, but he's, Pawlenty seems to be the first one to be a top-tier Republican who has done this.

CONAN: And it was a flag-waving and, well, heavenly choir commercial that ran on his Facebook page.

(Soundbite of video)

(Soundbite of music)

Governor TIM PAWLENTY (Republican, Minnesota): This is our country. Our founding fathers created it. Americans embraced it. Ronald Reagan personified it. And Lincoln stood courageously to protect it. And that's why today I'm announcing the formation of an exploratory committee to run for president of the United States.

(Soundbite of jet in flight)

Join the team, and together, we'll restore America.

CONAN: No truth to the rumor that was Claire McCaskill's jet with the overflight there.

RUDIN: No, but, you know, four years ago at this time, there were almost 20 Democrats and Republicans who had already established exploratory committees, and here it is that Tim Pawlenty's the first big one. Herman Cain, of course, the pizza magnate, is also one. But again, there's a very slow-emerging Republican field.

CONAN: Why so slow this time around?

RUDIN: Well, that's a good question. I think everybody's waiting to see what the big boys will do. When I say big boys, I include people like Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. And everybody seems to be dancing around the issue.

But you know by the time of the fall, once the debates get into really, you know, strong - once the debates start and everything, there will be far more Republicans running.

CONAN: You mentioned Sarah Palin, oft ridiculed for her lack of experience in foreign policy. A trip overseas this week, including a visit to Israel.

RUDIN: Right. I mean, that's not an unusual thing for a candidate to do. She met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I guess on Sunday or Monday. She spent two days there. She was walking around the Old City, the Wall, wearing the Star of David pendant around her neck.

I understand also there's a rumor that Michele Bachmann is also going to Israel because she wants to see the Eiffel Tower. So I think that'll be kind of neat, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin. We have a couple of people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...the last time two former governors faced off in a race for the United States Senate, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

We'll go to Don(ph). Don's with us from St. Louis.

DON (Caller): Carnahan-Ashcroft.

RUDIN: That's a good guess. That's 2000 in Missouri. John Ashcroft was the incumbent senator, former governor. But Mel Carnahan was the current governor at that time in 2000. Of course, he won the race posthumously. He died a few weeks before that in a plane crash. But he was the incumbent governor.

DON: Which would make him the former governor.

RUDIN: But he was the current governor. The question is two former governors.

CONAN: Former governors.

RUDIN: That's what we're looking for, former governors.

CONAN: But nice try, Don. He's going to appeal for a ruling. I can see the...

RUDIN: Yeah (unintelligible).

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to Rich(ph), Rich with us from Boise.

RICH (Caller): How about Lindsay-Rockefeller?

RUDIN: I'm sorry...

CONAN: John Lindsay and I assume Nelson Rockefeller.

RICH: Yes.

RUDIN: Well, first of all, Nelson Rockefeller never ran for the Senate. But I'm talking about a race where two former governors ran against each other for the Senate.

RICH: OK.

CONAN: Nice try. Nice try, Rich. Let's go to - this is Joe(ph), Joe with us from Norfolk.

JOE (Caller): Well, I'm going to make this guess: Chuck Robb and George Allen, Virginia?

RUDIN: That's not only a very good guess, it's an excellent guess because it's the only one I could think of except for the correct answer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But in 2000, George Allen and...

JOE: Was George Allen still the governor?

RUDIN: What?

JOE: George Allen was still governor, wasn't he?

RUDIN: No, no, no. they were both former governors, and it was in 2000, but it's not the most recent time.

JOE: Oh, OK, thanks.

CONAN: So you get the silver medal, Joe.

JOE: OK, thanks.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is John(ph) and John with us from Mount Pleasant in Iowa.

JOHN (Caller): Yeah, I think it's the most recent Virginia race between Mark Warner and Gilmore in 2008.

RUDIN: That is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, congratulations, John. We're going to put you on hold, collect your particulars, and of course we will send you a political no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise to send us a digital picture of yourself to be posted on our Wall of Shame. Congratulations.

JOHN: Absolutely. Thank you very much.

RUDIN: You know, Neal, it's interesting. All three races were in Virginia, and all - Virginia's the only state that a governor is limited to one term. So obviously...

CONAN: You get a lot of former governors, and where else do you move up? But in any case, we're going to go next to Kansas City, Missouri, which cast actual ballots yesterday, elected a mayor.

RUDIN: It did. It elected Sly James, and Sly and his family James. What's interesting about that race is that first of all, James is a political newcomer, never ran for office before. But it was a completely cordial race.

There was no mud-slinging. James and his opponent basically were just, you know, cordial to each other, and that's kind of unusual in this day and age.

CONAN: I think they should both be voted out of office.

RUDIN: Exactly. Well, that's a new winner in Kansas City. There was also an election in Jacksonville yesterday. Two candidates emerged to a May 17th runoff. And in Tampa, Florida, Bob Buckhorn was elected mayor.

CONAN: And a curious anniversary: Today, health care turns one year old. Of course, Republicans, a lot of them, would prefer if it never celebrates a second birthday.

RUDIN: Right, and we're not sure exactly what's the long-term life expectancy of this bill. Of course, we're waiting for the Supreme Court. But politically, the most interesting thing to me is what - how Mitt Romney deals with his version of Obamacare and how he can differentiate what he did in Massachusetts to what Republicans completely deride as Obamacare.

CONAN: And finally, we have to remember former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who died a few days ago, who played an important role in one political campaign.

RUDIN: He did. Of course, he was a secretary of state under Bill Clinton. He helped release the hostages in 2000, I'm sorry, in 1980. But he was also Al Gore's campaign manager, part of the - headed the recount in Florida in 2000. So he was responsible for that, didn't do so well for that. But he also died.

And also the former wife of a former Virginia senator, John Warner, died today.

CONAN: We heard about that on the news, yes. All right, well, thanks very much for that tip there, Ken.

RUDIN: OK. This just in.

CONAN: The political junkie, Ken Rudin, is with us every Wednesday. If you'd like to read his blog, solve his ScuttleButton puzzle or listen to his podcast, check out npr.org/junkie.

Stay with us. We're going to be talking about Libya and Congress with members of both parties, who say the president needs to consult more, maybe even needs a declaration of war. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is here, as usual.

Earlier today, President Obama repeated his assertion he will not support a ground invasion of Libya. Airstrikes continue to pound government military sites in Tripoli and other areas.

The targets have been expanded to include heavy armor and government troops attacking cities under rebel control. The U.S. plans to step back from its lead role in those attacks and will do so later this week, according to President Obama.

The president has the support of many top Republicans and Democrats in Congress, but an unexpected alliance from both parties is blasting the president for not seeking congressional approval before sending U.S. forces into action.

We'll talk with two of his critics in just a moment. What should the role of Congress be in this decision? 800-989-8255. You can also reach us by email, talk@npr.org. You can also check in on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

On the line now from his district in western Maryland is Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, a veteran who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. And Congressman Bartlett, nice to have you with us today.

Representative ROSCOE BARTLETT (Republican, Maryland): Happy to be on. Thank you.

CONAN: And the president was criticized by some in your party for not acting fast enough on Libya. When should he have come before Congress?

Rep. BARTLETT: Well, he should've come before Congress a very long time ago. You know, many people were frustrated. Gadhafi was pummeling the rebels and killing civilians. And clearly if we were going to be involved legitimately, he should've come to the Congress.

We were wondering why he didn't come. He just didn't come and didn't come. And then we left for one week, district work period, and the day after we left he sends this memo out saying that he has been talking to the U.N., he has been talking to the Arab League.

He had time to talk to both of them but no time to talk to the Congress. And what he's done is a clear violation of both the Constitution and the War Powers Act. The Constitution says that the Congress commits our military to war. He is just the commander-in-chief. This is not the king's army.

And the War Powers Act says that he can only commit our troops, our military, to combat under three circumstances. One, a declaration of war. We didn't do that. Secondly, specific authorization by the Congress. I guess if we gave him money, that would be tantamount to specific authorization. We didn't do that. The third says that he can commit our troops if there's an immediate threat against the United States. There is no way that you could argue that what's happening over in Libya is an immediate threat against the United States.

Now he's saying that he's complied with the War Powers Act because he notified our leaders in Congress. You know, but you can't make legal something that is patently illegal. The first thing, illegal - you can't make that legal by doing something legal after that, you know.

CONAN: Some might point out, Congressman Bartlett, that President Bush, a Republican, did not...

Rep. BARTLETT: I agree, sir.

CONAN: ...notify Congress either.

Rep. BARTLETT: President Bush. It was done by Jack Kennedy in the Bay of Pigs. It's been done by every president. And you know, the Congress needs to pull back its constitutional prerogatives. We've been systematically yielding those to the judiciary that tells the public what our laws mean. They don't come to us. You wait to see what the court says the law meant.

We've yielded it to the executive. We may write a 10-page bill. They may write 100 pages in regulations that go way beyond what we intended in the bill. And the Congress is making itself irrelevant by yielding more and more of its constitutional prerogatives to the executive and to the judiciary. We need to stop that and turn it around. Now, I hope this is a signal we may start to do that.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, Congressman, thanks for coming on the show. Of course, one difference between the Bush situation in Iraq was that Congress did authorize the president to go to war if necessary in Iraq. So you didn't even that this time.

But in retrospect, we don't know how long this is going to last. Even with the no-fly zone and the bombings by the Allied forces, you know, Gadhafi's troops don't seem to be pulling back at all. Gadhafi still seems to be in power. How long can this go on without a congressional vote?

Rep. BARTLETT: Well, it can go on forever without a congressional vote because you're already in violation of the Constitution and in violation of the War Powers Act. You know, so what difference does it make if he's in violation of it another week?

RUDIN: No, but how long will Congress allow this to go on without saying we have to have a say in this?

Rep. BARTLETT: Well, I hope the minute(ph) we come back that we will be discussing this. And, you know, I'm very pleased that both the right and the left, Democrats and Republicans, are saying the same thing. You know, the president has gone beyond his constitutional prerogatives and he has done things that only the Congress can do.

And I hope now that since we have this broad support across a very wide spectrum - my goodness, Barbara Lee is about as far on the left as I am on the right, and we both agree that what the president has done is not constitutional.

CONAN: Let me ask you another question, though, about the timing. The president clearly wanted to make it clear that the United States was not in the lead on this. He did not want to portray it as another American war in the Middle East.

He wanted to get the cover of the Arab League, wait for them to ask for a no-fly resolution. He got that. Then he wanted the cover of a United Nations Security Council resolution, which President Bush did not get before Iraq and which cost him dearly.

At that point the rebels were, as you say, being pushed back to the gates of Benghazi. Should the president had then waited for a couple of days for a vote in Congress?

Rep. BARTLETT: No, he should've come to the Congress a long time before that.

CONAN: But an American declaration of war is not going to portray this as a European and Arab-led intervention.

Rep. BARTLETT: It doesn't need to be a declaration of war, you know. But he at least - the second part of the War Powers Act says it needs(ph) specific legislative authorization.

You know, we did that for Iraq. I voted for the Spratt Substitute because I -you know, if we go to war, I think we should declare war. If we're going under the auspices of a U.N. resolution, that's a little different, although I'm not sure that a treaty can set aside the Constitution. And that's pretty much what our agreement with the U.N. does.

If the U.N. says go to war, then we go to war. But the Constitution says that the Congress declares when we go to war. I'm not sure that the Congress can give away its responsibility by saying that they're going to hand that decision over to the United Nations.

But that's another discussion. We need to have both of those.

CONAN: And finally, there are a lot of people in your party - and you think of Senator McCain and Senator Graham for just two - who were bitterly critical, and Sarah Palin as well, saying the president is dithering. He needs to act now, now, now, now, now.

Rep. BARTLETT: I wouldn't argue with that. I'm not making the argument we shouldn't be in there. You know, we should've had that debate. To me, I've got to make a decision as to whether what we're doing there and all the money we're spending is the right thing to do because, you know, I have 10 kids, 17 grandkids and two great-grandkids, and every six hours we're handing them another billion-dollar debt.

You know, and I haven't you know, I haven't made that decision yet, because we didn't have that debate. I'm not critical of the fact that we're in there. I'm critical of the fact that he has totally bypassed the Constitution and the War Powers Act by not coming to Congress for approval to do that.

CONAN: As a member of the Armed Services Committee, how quickly is some authorization for some payment of some of the bill for Libya going to be coming up?

Rep. BARTLETT: Well, they're functioning now on a continuing resolution. They're just borrowing money from other places. You know, the planes do fly and these missiles are already there, and it will only cost money when we replace the missiles.

About every - it's about a million dollars a pop for those missiles, by the way.

CONAN: Yeah, IV - Block IV cruise missiles.

Rep. BARTLETT: Yes.

CONAN: Upwards of a million dollars each. Congressman, thanks very much for your time today.

Rep. BARTLETT: Well, thank you all. Thank you for your interest in this issue.

CONAN: That's Roscoe Bartlett, the Republican who represents Maryland's Sixth District, with us on the phone from there.

The House of Representatives and the Senate are out this week. But joining us now is Representative John Larson, a Democrat who represents the First District of Connecticut. And he's the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Nice to have you with us today.

Representative JOHN LARSON (Democrat, Connecticut): Well, great to be with you, Neal and Ken.

CONAN: And you were, I know, listening to Roscoe Bartlett. Would you agree with him?

Rep. LARSON: Yeah, I just caught the tail end of the conversation. I apologize.

CONAN: That's all right. But would you agree with him? The president needs to go before Congress and get some sort of a vote?

Rep. LARSON: Of course, and I think that, you know, this is always and has been a - at least since Harry Truman, a time-honored struggle between the executive branch and the legislative branch.

And listen, I appreciate the gravity of the situation. I understand the difficulty that the administration, the president, was placed in. I do appreciate the extraordinary efforts to make sure that the Arab League was involved, to make sure that there was a United Nations resolution.

And certainly both from a humanitarian perspective and from the track record of a brutal dictator, I understand why the president felt that action was necessary after they had made appropriate cause.

I also understand and know that top legislative leaders were briefed. But that simply isn't enough. And I think given the fact of - as events have unfolded in sequence in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Bahrain, in Yemen, and you know, and now in Libya, that clearly the gravity of this situation, being at war on two fronts already, and given our difficult budgetary constraints and concern about a deficit, that this requires a robust debate.

CONAN: Well, let's go back to that timing then. He needed - you say it's important to get the Security Council resolution. He can't get that if this is looking like an American-led war.

Britain, France and Lebanon co-sponsored that resolution. So then, if he's waiting for that resolution to go through - so it's not vetoed by Russia or China, if he's waiting for that to go through - then you've got Gadhafi's tanks at the gates of Benghazi. He should wait for a congressional debate.

Rep. LARSON: No, it's not a question of waiting for a congressional debate. So where were the - where are all the classified briefings leading up to that, Other than a resolution? Where's the involvement of the Congress? That's, I think, where the rub is.

I did hear Roscoe Bartlett say, look, it's not about - it's about the debate. It is about this clash, and it's a Constitutional one over the issue of going to war and deploying our troops.

And, listen, I get it with respect to the difficulty and the great pains that the president and the great lengths that he went to, and along with the secretary of state, to do this. But that's still...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. LARSON: ...leaves out the fact that as a co-equal branch of government that Congress needs to be informed. And minimally, you know, you would think -I understand. I get it with respect to, you know, the briefing that was given to our legislative leadership, but there is, you know - certainly, you know, with respect to the mission, how long the mission will take, what our exit strategy is and what the cost will be. Those are things that Congress needs to discuss.

CONAN: Ken?

Rep. LARSON: And, frankly, who are we fighting for there? Are we intervening on behalf - getting in the middle of a civil war? Who are the rebels? And these may require classified briefings, but they're certainly within the realm of doing in a timely basis.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Congressman, thank you. As Congress Bartlett just alluded to a few minutes ago, on Monday, President Obama sent Congress a two-page letter saying that as commander of chief, he has the Constitutional authority to do X, Y and Z.

One, isn't that exactly what president - when Barack Obama criticized George W. Bush back in the Iraqi war, and wasn't that something that the majority of the Democratic Caucus was opposed to when Bush tried that same language?

Rep. LARSON: Well, I think that's why a number of Democrats are certainly concerned about that, and I would agree that it is similar language. I think that these are different circumstances. But on one hand, you have Bush who came before Congress to seek a rush to a resolution without having gone to the United Nations and going through the Security Council and getting the approvals that, let's say, that his father had in Operation Desert Storm.

Here, we have a different case, and in this case, Obama and this administration has gotten that kind of an agreement that necessitated - which you would think, the logical follow-on - minimally, would have been a classified briefing so that members would understand the president's intent; not to commit to ground troops, to be a matter of days, not weeks. And instead, the feeling that members in the House came away with - not all - but a number of members in our caucus...

CONAN: Yes.

Rep. LARSON: ...I want to be clear about that that I speak for myself, not for the caucus - is that, you know, the press was informed of events as they were unfolding with greater clarity than members of Congress.

CONAN: We're talking with Congressman John Larson, Democrat from Connecticut. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get a caller on the line. Let's go to Steve, and Steve with us from Nampa in Idaho.

STEVE (Caller): Yes. Thanks for taking my call. Listen, I appreciate and I respect the congressmen, both of them, for being on the program today, but I have this - I'm sorry.

With all due respect, Sir, you make it sound as if your committee sit around much like mushrooms waiting to be fed. You saw the news. You heard the reports. It's always like you're an armchair quarterback coming in from, you know, after the game is pretty much over with and then want to have control.

Rep. LARSON: Well, I would say it's - I would slightly disagree with you. In many respects, you know, the discourse between the legislative branch and the executive branch has often been described as the executive proposes and the legislature disposes. And that is true, and that's time honored. This is - does represent, I think, constitutional tension that has always existed between the two branches.

CONAN: Well, let me - but...

Rep. LARSON: Notwithstanding that, it's not a question of being an armchair. It's a question of being a partner, meaning that we need to have those briefings.

CONAN: Well...

Rep. LARSON: If you're committing forces...

STEVE: Pardon me..

Rep. LARSON: If you're spending money, which Congress is in charge of as a purse, and there's a mission...

STEVE: If you're working together...

CONAN: Steve, just wait a minute, and we'll let you have another go.

All right, Steve, you're up. Go.

STEVE: Congressman, if you're working together...

Rep. LARSON: Mm-hmm.

STEVE: ...you're not shooting missiles at them from behind. You're working together.

Rep. LARSON: Right. I agree. So...

STEVE: That's not what I'm hearing.

Rep. LARSON: Well...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. LARSON: ...well, if you say you're working together, that means that you're informed of what's going to happen and what's going to take place.

CONAN: But, well, let...

Rep. LARSON: What I'm saying to you is that...

CONAN: Steve, let me get in here because we just have a little time left, and I wanted to ask Congressman Larson. Should the speaker of the House and the majority leader of the Senate have called Congress back to debate this once it's started? They could have taken a role themselves.

Rep. LARSON: I believe they should have. They could have, and I think that would be the administration's position. But I think it's also incumbent upon the administration. You know, if they could call us back but the administration is - that needs to inform us. The administration has the expertise. The administration is going to provide the intelligence. The administration should - and the gentleman's point is well taken.

They should say here's the urgency. Here's where we are. We're informing you. It doesn't require - the president still can go ahead with his actions under the War Powers Act or otherwise, and then have time to more fully explain and wait. But, you know, again, are the immanent interest a threat - does this represent an immanent threat to the United States of America? And if so, what is that threat? And there's a lot of history and issues that are involved in this, including the Weinberger Doctrine and the Powell corollary.

And, listen, a lot of us have lived through this stuff before. You know, when we're in a secondary role. We're in an advisory capacity. That was the case in Vietnam. And this is...

CONAN: And...

Rep. LARSON: This is a healthy, by the way, debate, and it's shared...

CONAN: But it's got to have to end here, I'm afraid.

Rep. LARSON: ...bipartisanly.

CONAN: Congressman, I'm afraid we're out of time, but I want to say: Thanks, Steve for his phone call. And I wanted to thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Rep. LARSON: Okey-doke.

CONAN: John Larson, a Democrat who represents the First Congressional District in Connecticut.

Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Bye, Neal.

CONAN: This is NPR News.

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