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Context of 'August 26, 2002: White House Asserts It Can Launch War against Iraq without Congressional Approval'

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Democratic Congressional leaders Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) hold a televised conference call with Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), in a show of support for the Gore campaign efforts to stop Florida from certifying George W. Bush as the winner of the state presidential race (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000). “What we’re talking about involves many thousands of votes that have never been counted at all,” Gore tells Daschle and Gephardt. [Guardian, 11/28/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Tom Daschle, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Gephardt

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Ari Fleischer.Ari Fleischer. [Source: Washington Post]White House press secretary Ari Fleischer says that White House lawyers believe President Bush does not need the approval of Congress before launching an attack against Iraq. Fleischer goes on to say that such a consultation with Congress is important, if not constitutionally necessary, because “Congress has an important role to play.… The president knows that any decision he makes on a hypothetical congressional vote will be guided by more than one factor, more than legal factors alone.” Bush “would consider a variety of legal, policy, historical factors in making up his mind about this, if it again becomes a relevant matter. The president knows that in a democracy, it’s vital to have the support of the public if he reaches any point where he makes decisions about military action.” [CNN, 8/26/2002] Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution specifically states that Congress, not the executive branch, has the responsibility of declaring war with another nation. In modern US history, the judiciary has concurred with a number of presidents that the executive branch has limited powers to authorize military strikes, though not the power to commit US forces to a region for an extended period of time without Congressional approval. [University of Missouri-Kansas City, 8/16/2007] And the 1973 War Powers act requires the president to consult with Congress before deploying the military in “hostilities,” to notify Congress of troop commitments within 48 hours of deployment, and to end hostilities within 60 days unless Congress declares war or grants an extension to the deployment. In previous deployments since the law’s passage, presidents have often ignored the law, and Congress has usually not pressed the issue. White House lawyers say Bush has such authority based on his constitutional power to make military decisions as commander in chief, as well as under the terms of the 1991 Gulf War resolution and the September 14, 2001 Congressional resolution approving military action against terrorism. But House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) says that it is “imperative” that Congress debate and vote on any plan to attack Iraq. “This issue is much more than just a legal debate. The president will need the decisive support of the public and their elected representatives in order to initiate and sustain the effort that will be required to eliminate the threat posed by this regime.” [CNN, 8/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Richard Gephardt, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds a “top secret” briefing on Iraq for selected Congressional members, including, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The briefing takes place in the most secure room in the Capitol, a small, windowless chamber that is ostentatiously swept for bugs before the briefing. At the outset, the lawmakers are sworn to deepest secrecy. But during the briefing, Rumsfeld tells the assembled members nothing they couldn’t learn by watching the nightly news. McCain abruptly leaves the meeting, and later says, “It was a joke.” Vice President Cheney has said that the administration doesn’t trust the 535 members of Congress not to leak classified information, and therefore they must make their decisions concerning war with Iraq without the benefit of complete intelligence briefings (see Before September 9, 2002 and After). McCain reflects the feelings of many members in expressing his aggravation with the administration. “It becomes almost insulting after a while,” he says. “Everyone that goes to them is frustrated.” Rather than give “pretend” briefings that convey little information, McCain says, President Bush should just suspend the briefings entirely. House member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says many members are skipping the briefings entirely to avoid signing a secrecy pledge that restricts what they can and cannot talk about. Menendez, briefed earlier by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, says, “I heard nothing that was new, compelling, or that I have not heard before.” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says, “The White House will continue to as fully inform as possible members of Congress, while also preserving sensitive intelligence information so no inadvertent disclosure jeopardizes sources or methods or missions.” The White House has had some success with Democrats who might be resistant to its arguments for war by choosing to give more complete briefings to a few selected Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO). As a result, Democratic leaders in Congress are more supportive of the push towards war than many of their rank-and-file colleagues. [Washington Post, 9/15/2002]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Menendez, US Department of Defense, John McCain, George W. Bush, Richard Gephardt, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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