|WAR ON THE FLOOR|
April 28, 1999
KWAME HOLMAN: The Constitution gives Congress sole authority to declare war, and it has done so five times: The War of 1812 against Great Britain; the Mexican War in 1846; the Spanish-American war in 1898; World War I in 1917; and World War II in 1941. But in the nearly 60 years since then, despite military interventions in a dozen foreign countries resulting in the deaths of more than 80,000 US soldiers, there have been no formal declarations of war by Congress. Against Iraq, Congress only endorsed US military action, by a very narrow margin.
REP. TOM CAMPBELL, (R) California: We are at war, and Congress has not declared that, and it's unconstitutional.
KWAME HOLMAN: California Republican Tom Campbell, a member of the House International Relations Committee, has been a strong opponent of US military involvement in Yugoslavia. Yesterday, he took the first step toward forcing Congress to vote up or down on a war declaration.
REP. TOM CAMPBELL: And I'm putting forward in good faith a resolution which declares the truth that we are, in fact, in a state of war. It has no extra baggage. It has no "whereas" clauses. It simply states that, pursuant to Section "B" of the War Powers Resolution and Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution, a state of war is declared to exist between the United States and the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. My colleagues, it is the truth. I yield back.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Committee unanimously rejected the declaration-of-war proposal, but, as is his right granted under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, Campbell was able to take it before the full House today.
REP. TOM CAMPBELL: I don't know of any other statute that provides this right. It is the right that a member of Congress can come to the floor and require other members of Congress to vote on the record, up or down, when the question is war.
KWAME HOLMAN: And so throughout the day, members of the House of Representatives came to the floor to debate whether the United States is, in fact, at war.
REP. RON PAUL, (R) Texas: If you don't declare war and if you don't have a war because it's in our national interest and for national security reasons, you don't fight to win the war. And that's always been our problem, whether it was Korea or Vietnam or wherever. So what are we going to do? We're going to perpetuate this confusion. But what we should do is vote down a declaration of war, vote to get the troops out of there, and vote to condemn the bombing. And the sooner we do that, the better.
KWAME HOLMAN: Gene Taylor, Democrat from Mississippi, was one of the few members who argued in favor of declaring war against Yugoslavia.
REP. GENE TAYLOR, (D) Mississippi: When I was a young state Senator, I once questioned a former Congressman by the name of Charles Griffin, who served during the Vietnam War, and I remember asking him, "How could you serve for those years while Americans were coming home every day and, in effect, pretend that there was not a war going on?" I want to apologize to Congressman Griffin, because basically I'm seeing the same thing today. But in deference to now deceased Congressman Griffin, I certainly won't do what I accused him of doing. I'm going to vote to declare war. Americans are at war. I say this with great reluctance, because I know that in voting for war I share responsibility for the lives of those young Americans who may die, but to do nothing is much worse.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, there was little doubt that the full House, like the Committee yesterday, would overwhelmingly reject a formal declaration of war. But there were strong arguments for and against continued US military participation in the NATO air campaign.
REP. SAM GEJDENSON, (D) Connecticut: I look around this Chamber, as I did yesterday in Committee, and I've seen virtually very member here at a Holocaust memorial. I've seen them come for a day of remembrance about the Armenian genocide. I've heard speeches by my friends here condemning our inaction in Rwanda. And now what are we going to do here in Kosovo? We will make a decision whether we simply repeat history so we can have one more day with the speaker's approval in the rotunda bemoaning the death and destruction of the Kosovar Albanians, or we will try and take an action united with our other NATO partners that will put this murder to an end.
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, (R) California: The option is not doing nothing, or sending in our US troops to do the fighting. That is not the option. The American people need no longer bear the burden for maintaining stability throughout the world, especially in Europe's backyard. Our forces right now are flying nine out of ten combat missions, and we Americans are paying two-thirds of the cost. Well, we've done our part of this conflict already. If the Balkans are so important, let the Europeans step forward and finish the job. Let them deploy their troops if they think it is so important.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congress does control the military's purse strings, and Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich offered an alternative resolution that would prohibit the Pentagon from spending any money on ground troops unless Congress authorizes their deployment.
REP. JOHN KASICH, Chairman, Budget Committee: And if the United States wants to be the policeman of the world, we will find that we will diminish ourselves over the long run, and we will find when it is necessary to act against terrorism or to provide worldwide stability in some part of this world, we will be too spread out, we will be too thin, and we will not be able to be effective. That the prescription for the eroding of a national power of a superpower status into the 21st century.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, Minority Leader Richard Gephardt argued Kasich's resolution was unnecessary and would send Yugoslav President Milosevic the wrong message. Gephardt was part of the congressional delegation that met with President Clinton today. Gephardt said the President assured members he would not commit ground troops without their approval.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, Minority Leader: He would not, as a practical matter, ask for an introduction of ground troops without coming here, talking to us, and allowing time for a vote. As minority leader, I believe strongly that if there is to be a change in the policy by NATO or the United States and we should be seeking ground troops, that it must be debated in the Congress and a vote must be taken in the Congress. I don't know how I would vote.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, President Clinton sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert formalizing the commitment to ask for congressional support before introducing US ground forces into Kosovo into a non-permissive environment. Nevertheless, 45 Democrats joined nearly all House Republicans in approving the resolution requiring the President to get congressional authorization to deploy ground troops.