Judiciary Panel Ponders Congress Ending War Sen. Russ Feingold, an anti-war Democrat from Wisconsin, chairs a hearing of the Judiciary Committee, exploring what powers Congress has to end a war — specifically, the one raging in Iraq.
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Judiciary Panel Ponders Congress Ending War

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Judiciary Panel Ponders Congress Ending War


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Melissa Block.

And we're going to begin this hour with this question - how much power does Congress have over the conduct of the war in Iraq? That was the subject of a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee today and just part of the debate over the war on Capitol Hill. Next week, the Senate will debate non-binding resolutions on President Bush's decision to send thousands more troops to Iraq.

NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA: Today's hearing on Congress's war powers was chaired by a longtime opponent of the Iraq war, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold. He thanked the five constitutional scholars who sat before the committee.

Representative RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): We are here today to find out from them not what Congress should do, but what Congress can do.

WELNA: Still, Feingold had already decided what Congress should do.

Representative FEINGOLD: Since the president is adamant about pursuing his failed policies in Iraq, Congress has the duty to stand up and use its power to stop him. If Congress doesn't stop this war, it's not because it doesn't have the power. It's because it doesn't have the will.

WELNA: Feingold then announced he's introducing legislation tomorrow that would prohibit funds from being used to keep most U.S. forces in Iraq six months from its passage, though that maybe a tall order given President Bush's veto power. Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger said Congress has placed such restrictions many times before. Dellinger says the president does have the authority as commander in chief to choose his sub-commanders.

Professor WALTER DELLINGER (Duke University): But it is ultimately Congress that decides the size, scope and duration of the use of military force. And this has been recognized by administrations of both political parties throughout our time.

WELNA: And Library of Congress constitutional expert Louis Fisher pointed out that it's only in the past half century that the notions caught on that a president can go to war on his own, since Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war.

Mr. LOUIS FISHER (Library of Congress): It has to be responsibility and you're the custodian of the public power. You're the ones to make sure that when the people vote, that's why we have elections, you're the one to make sure that that public will is respected and carried out. And the power is much more in Congress in protecting democratic systems than it is on the president.

WELNA: But other scholars were more skeptical of Congress's powers. University of Virginia law professor Robert Turner said Congress does indeed have powers to raise and support armies.

Professor ROBERT TURNER (University of Virginia): But decisions involving the conduct of war, including where to move troops, whether to reinforce troops, whether to move troops from one hill to another are vested exclusively in the president. And when Congress tries to control this power either directly by statute or by conditions to appropriations, it becomes a lawbreaker, it violates the Constitution.

WELNA: When it comes to the conduct of war, Turner declared, President Bush is the decider. Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, who opposes the troop buildup in Iraq, insisted Congress too has a say.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider, that the decider is a shared and joint responsibility.

WELNA: Another Republican, Utah's Orrin Hatch, was far more deferential to the president. Hatch was interrupted by a woman in the audience as he warned against congressional action.

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): We must also consider the message that we're sending to our troops.

Unidentified Woman: My son is a U.S. Marine. He has been sent over to Iraq. He is now being (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of gavel)

WELNA: The woman pleaded for the senators to bring the troops home so her son would not be sent for a third tour in Iraq. And at the end, Feingold declared his bill would do just that.

Representative FEINGOLD: This hearing has shown that this legislation is fully consistent with the Constitution of the United States. Congress should enact it and soon. The hearing is adjourned.

(Soundbite of gavel)

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: Feingold got a standing ovation from the decidedly anti-war audience.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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