Congress wants in on the decisionmaking about Syria.
House Speaker John Boehner, in a letter submitted to the White House Wednesday afternoon, asked that President Obama provide his reasoning and goals for military action in Syria before engaging there. Speaker Boehner wants to be informed of the potential costs involved and the legal justification for moving ahead without a congressional resolution.
"[I]t is essential that you provide a clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action ... will secure U.S. objectives and how it fits into your overall policy," he wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, some 116 House members – 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats – sent a separate plea to Mr. Obama seeking congressional authorization for any steps toward retaliation against a Syrian leadership that allegedly used chemical weapons on its own citizens.
The moves mark heightening tensions between the administration and Congress, a showdown of sorts that only reinforces the near-constant friction that exists between the White House and the GOP-led House. Now, even issues of international importance are not getting outside the usually fractious conversations about health-care reform, immigration, and guns that have dominated much of Obama’s time in office.
On the one hand, given how sour the relationships, it’s hard to imagine that Boehner and his leadership team would get on board with anything Obama aims to accomplish – with or without evidence – in an expeditious fashion. But then again, for the White House to take military action in an unstable country in a fraught region without congressional support leaves Obama going it all alone – and the US government was not devised so that the president should be a solo actor. Checks and balances between the branches are designed to help produce good decisionmaking.
Politically as well, the president invites enormous criticism if lives are lost, costs skyrocket, or the policy embarked upon is an overall dud. And legally, well, there’s a case to be made that Boehner’s view represents a historic norm: Typically, the president consults Congress on matters of war.
No one can say yet what being pulled into a conflict-ridden Syria might involve. Or how short- or long-term the commitment might be, regardless of intentions at the outset. The administration aims, at this point, not to become entrenched in a warlike situation there or war itself. Obama has spent his time in office pulling the United States out of Iraq and Afghanistan; more fighting was not on his agenda.
With Iranian and Russian leaders cautioning against US intervention, however, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad suggesting his nation will retaliate, any American military strike, no matter how limited in scope, could reverberate well beyond that country’s borders.
Congress is in recess until Sept. 9. But urgency could suggest the need for a special session. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament to talk through his country’s options in Syria. He and Obama have been in close touch in recent days. France is also weighing options.
Senior administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have briefed members of Congress and will hold another session Thursday.
“The President continues to review options with his national-security team, and senior Administration officials from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and Intelligence Community are continuing to reach out to bipartisan House and Senate leadership, leadership of the relevant committees, and other members of Congress,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said after Boehner’s letter was circulated. “The views of the Congress are important to this process, so we will be continuing to engage with them as the President reaches a decision on the appropriate U.S. response.”
Even though the White House has pledged to provide congressional leaders with a classified report – as well as submitting a nonclassified version to the public – lawmakers want more information and to provide more input. And many are advising that they deserve to be part of the process.
"Absent an imminent threat to United States national security, the U.S. should not be engaged in military action without Congressional approval," Sen. Tim Kaine (D) of Virginia said in a statement.
Rep. Ted Poe (R) of Texas believes that a unilateral presidential decision would violate the War Powers Resolution, which passed over President Nixon’s veto in 1973. Syria’s instability produces no imminent threat to America, he adds.
“According to the Constitution, it is Congress, and Congress alone, that has the power to declare war,” Representative Poe writes on Fox News’s website. “James Madison said, ‘The Constitution supposes what history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it.’ Madison was right on the money.”
Historically, though, disagreements have arisen about the intent of this resolution, and several presidents have acted to circumvent its requirements. For example, in the 1990s President Clinton used armed forces for airstrikes in Bosnia and Kosovo, dodging the requirements of the resolution. He reported to Congress but did not seek its full endorsement. Some members of Congress challenged Mr. Clinton unsuccessfully in court. Clinton at the time suggested the War Powers Resolution was “constitutionally defective.”
In 2011, the Obama administration argued that limited intervention in the Libyan civil conflict also did not fall under the scope of the War Powers Resolution. In a report provided to lawmakers at the time, the White House described the NATO-led mission as not involving sustained fighting, exchanges with hostile forces, or ground troops. At the time, Boehner complained that the effort went beyond the 60-day window for unauthorized engagement that is specified in the resolution. Other members filed a lawsuit requiring the US to pull out because Congress failed to authorize engagement; it was ultimately dismissed by a federal judge.
The White House stood its ground, meanwhile, citing a supporting role.
Concerning Syria, Obama has put himself in a tough spot, Nicholas Kristof suggests in Thursday’s New York Times. The president declined to arm rebels earlier because he “feared being dragged into the conflict.” But with 100,000 killed, the latest news of a chemical attack, and the consequences of a destabilized Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, Obama has set himself up to have to do something.
“Since President Obama established a 'red line' about chemical weapons use, his credibility has been at stake: he can’t just whimper and back down,” Mr. Kristof writes.
And perhaps this means that in this urgent situation, Obama can’t get mired in a difficult conversation with a difficult Congress. Or conversely, does it suggest all the more that he work with the Congress he has?
It looks as if the US is about to attack Syria because the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people. US officials have made it clear that a main goal of such a strike would be to deter future use of this particular weapon of mass destruction, by Syria or anyone else.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday said that since the end of World War I the Chemical Weapons Convention and other multilateral efforts have established an international norm against use of poison gas.
“The use of chemical weapons on the scale that we saw on Aug. 21 cannot be ignored. It must be responded to, because to allow it to happen without a response would be to invite further use of chemical weapons and to have that international standard dissolved,” said Mr. Carney.
But here is one complication: From a military standpoint, chemical weapons themselves are a difficult target. Deterrence in this case might involve US strikes against the infrastructure that supports their use, including missiles and other delivery systems, and command-and-control sites, as opposed to chemical stocks.
For one thing, chemical weapons would not just harmlessly vaporize in an attack. If hit by US munitions, chemical dumps could release some poisons into the air or in liquid form on the ground. Predicting the environmental effect in the surrounding area would be extremely difficult.
US cruise missiles in particular would not be able to destroy chemical stocks. Their warheads are not big enough to incinerate chemical weapons.
“Air operations alone will likely be able to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile only to a certain extent, but not completely,” writes naval analyst Christopher Harmer of the Institute for the Study of War in a study of possible US actions in Syria.
Second, air strikes against chemical depots could allow extremist rebel factions access to any remaining stocks. With gates blown open and guards scattered or killed, Islamist groups might seize chemical weapons – a nightmare proliferation scenario.
Third, Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is probably too big for the US to destroy without the kind of large scale, boots-on-the ground military operation that the Obama administration has already ruled out.
Syria has been acquiring and producing nerve gas and blistering agents for decades. At this point, it has tons of chemical weapons, according to an Arms Control Association assessment, deliverable by bombs, missiles, and artillery.
By now, this stockpile has probably been dispersed to many sites, away from Syria’s five known chemical weapons installations.
Fully controlling Syria’s chemical weapons – by destroying large portions of its accumulated stocks, interdicting the movement of remaining chemicals, and seizing delivery systems and other program components – is within the power of the US military, according to a letter Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey sent Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in July.
But the effort would be extensive, according to the top US military officer.
“At a minimum, this option would call for a no-fly zone as well as air and missile strikes involving hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers,” wrote General Dempsey. “Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites. Costs could also average well over $1 billion per month.”
Some experts say Dempsey’s comments constitute a worst-case scenario. Military and strategic expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the July letter was “overkill.”
Could a focused effort to deal with the most dangerous chemical stockpiles, as well as with the forces that are armed and prepared to use chemical weapons, be effective in deterring their further use?
“The answer seems to be yes,” writes Dr. Cordesman in an analysis of US options in Syria.
And that’s the sort of US attack scenario that seems most likely at the moment: a limited strike using stand-off weapons such as cruise missiles to minimize danger to US personnel.
“These would target the most significant Syrian military facilities and assets and would essentially be punishment for using chemical weapons rather than an attempt to decisively swing the balance of power in favor of the opposition,” says Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and Africa editor of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.
As President Obama’s administration makes a case for military action in response to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own civilians, the discussion is prompting a key legal question: Does Mr. Obama have the authority to act without congressional approval or a UN Security Council resolution?
In England, Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled Parliament and asked for a government motion and vote on the appropriate British response.
But opinions are mixed about Obama’s need for similar backing. And the question is not only a legal one but also political. Legally, does Obama need congressional support? And politically, should he desire it?
Even though President George W. Bush’s administration ultimately had to defend the supporting evidence it produced – or misrepresented, depending on your view – to lobby for military action in Iraq, Congress did pass a war resolution in 2002 authorizing force.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush also asked for and received congressional backing for the Gulf War waged on his watch. The UN Security Council passed a resolution as well, requiring Iraq to destroy its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons arsenal and pay war reparations to Kuwait.
But the UN Security Council does not appear to be a viable avenue for the Obama administration as it considers how to move on Syria. The Russians, fellow members, have pledged to veto anything considered by the UN. Their comparisons between Obama and his predecessor, often deemed the cowboy diplomat by his opponents, are rampant.
“Obama is restlessly heading towards war in Syria like Bush was heading towards war in Iraq,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian lower house’s international committee, said on Twitter. “Like in Iraq, this war would be illegitimate and Obama will become Bush’s clone.”
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, added his voice to the mix: "The use of force without the approval of the United Nations Security Council is a very grave violation of international law.”
Of course, the Constitution provides Congress with the power to declare war. But the Obama administration would likely argue it’s not proposing war, just, potentially, a missile strike that would represent a slap to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and caution that there’s more where that came from. An effort to dislodge him, but not a full commitment of troops, money, and time.
But some lawyers see danger signs in Obama’s push for strikes against Syria. Obama is advocating an “imperial presidential model,” says Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University.
“We speak of United Nations support but we continue to act unilaterally in making war on those countries who do not yield to our demands,” Professor Turley says. “The talk of unilateral military action reaffirms the view that the United States only acts within international rules when it suits our objectives.”
Congress is out of session this month, and given the seemingly irreparable fissure between the GOP-controlled House of Representatives and the White House, it’s unclear, if probably also unlikely, that the executive branch and lawmakers could reach consensus on how to proceed in Syria. At least not in a timely fashion.
Congressional approval would give Obama political cover, but it doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
“Legally the president is on very firm ground if he seeks congressional authorization,” says Wells Bennett, a national security law fellow at Brookings. “The question then becomes is that doable as a political matter.”
With the situation in Syria fluid, what then might Obama use as backing?
Mr. Bennett says the president’s powers to act independently loosely encompass several areas: national security, national interest in providing for regional stability, and protection of US property or persons. A claim of self-defense, another possible support for executive action, isn’t evident in this situation.
More likely, where Syria is concerned, the administration is clearly considering the humanitarian principles involved and the tenuous balance that seems to be slipping away in this fraught region. With this rationale, the administration might reasonably make the claim that action is “morally and strategically justified,” Bennett says.
He also says the most likely, though by no means perfect, historic parallel is the 1999 NATO air campaign in Kosovo. Then, as now, civilians were involved in atrocities perpetrated by the government in power. Russia had ties, too, to Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, so President Clinton was unable to secure a UN resolution. Instead, he used NATO backing as endorsement for US air strikes.
Kosovo was a serious humanitarian crisis requiring expedited action; the Obama administration is making a similar claim for Syria.
“The trouble is that the legality of the Kosovo action was and remains acutely controversial, too – domestically, because the president acted alone, without a self-evident basis for doing so and without announcing his legal rationale publicly,” Bennett says, “and internationally, because (again) the Security Council did not sign off and no self-defense claim was implicated there, either. So Clinton’s actions were certainly controversial legally, then as now.”
Much as Obama’s are bound to be when, and if, he moves forward. The president likes to echo his predecessor, President Harry Truman, in stipulating that the buck stops with him. In the case of the Syria firestorm and US reaction to it, that couldn’t be more true.
Three presidents and scores of stars will gather at the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday to close the commemorative ceremonies marking Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington.
The 50th anniversary celebration – dubbed “Let Freedom Ring” – wraps a week-long series of local prayer services, a youth leadership training seminar, a round table about women of the movement, and discussions on poverty and economic empowerment, among other events.
So much has changed since that day – perhaps most obviously in modern times, the nation elected its first African-American president in 2008 – but for many involved in the cause of civil rights in this country, there is more to do. The wattage of notables set to turn out is not just a tribute to the nonviolent movement that King helped spawn as well as to his personal legacy, but also a reminder, many believe, of the work that remains.
President Obama, who will headline the final event, will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Oprah Winfrey and the actors Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker will participate. Soledad O’Brien and Hill Harper will host, and Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia, who spoke at the 1963 King rally, will address those gathered.
Many forget that the original march focused on jobs and economic parity as much as on equal rights, former NAACP chairman Julian Bond told USA Today. Mr. Bond, 23 years old at the time, delivered speech texts to journalists and sodas to celebrities, including Sammy Davis Jr. He tells Susan Page, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, that King’s speech helped shepherd into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The march, peaceful as it was, was one happening in an ongoing conversation about why black unemployment is higher than white unemployment and why housing is segregated in some communities, Bond says.
"Even today, 50 years from the March on Washington, white people tend to live over here; black people tend to live over there,” Bond says. “And as long as you live in separate places, you don't know each other. You can't have access to the best jobs. You can't have all the fruits that the country promises for you.
"That was true 50 years ago; that's true now. And it's something that has been neglected by the civil rights movement."
In reflecting on the 50th anniversary of her father’s speech, Bernice King, who is CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, calls the occasion a “wake-up call to really connect in the freedom struggle” and not just in moments of crisis. She echoes Bond’s description of disparities that still exist for blacks, adding health care, the justice system, and the environment to the list of issues requiring public attention and action.
And she mentions two recent headlines – the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a key section of Voting Rights Act this summer and the Trayvon Martin case in Florida – as proof of why the discussion must continue.
“Struggle is a never-ending process,” Ms. King told TheGrio.com. “Freedom is never really won; you earn it and win it in every generation.”
Still, despite its historic nature, not everyone is embracing this walk down memory lane. Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host and frequent Fox News personality, suggested on her show this week that the event’s goal "was to co-opt the legacy of Martin Luther King into a modern-day liberal agenda.” Her guest, former GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, said minorities don’t suffer in modern society.
“Black folks excel and are hugely popular figures in everything from sports to entertainment to athletics to politics,” he said. “Everywhere you go ... So the progress has been enormous."
Few could dispute that Mr. Obama’s election is one illustration of progress. That a “skinny kid with a funny name,” as he used to say on the campaign trail, could grow up to be the 44th president of the United States is a true reflection of changing attitudes.
Obama has at times been a reluctant participant in the national conversation about race and equality, preferring to be seen as a president who represents all people rather than one who more closely identifies with a particular segment of the population. He is, as he also liked to say on the stump, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.
Obama has taken heat when he has waded into national affairs freighted with racial meaning. The shooting death of teen Trayvon by George Zimmerman is a prominent example.
Obama chooses his moments carefully, though, and on Wednesday we can expect a speech tinged with personal feeling. Aides have said Obama will stand where King once did and “chart a course for the future,” according to Time, with a special plea to the country’s young people.
“This moment in the continuum in our history is an important one,” Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett tells Time. “It gives the president a chance to reflect on those 50 years. What that speech meant to him, how far our nation has come, and where he sees our nation going.”
Anniversary event coordinators are asking that those interested join in a bell ringing at 3 p.m. A moment of modest song in an often divided Washington.
The Obama administration appears on the verge of taking military action against Syria.
On Sunday, a senior White House official said in a written statement that there is “very little doubt” the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against its own people. In the past, President Obama has said that such an indiscriminate gas attack would cross a “red line” and draw a US response. Put those two things together, and it’s clear that the US is at least seriously considering some sort of armed response to Syria’s brutality.
Given that, how extensive a strike might the response be?
If Mr. Obama’s past approach to intervention is any guide, the action is likely to be a middle ground between doing nothing and action so forceful it would topple the Assad regime, according to some US foreign-policy experts.
“Most likely that middle-ground response will be targeted attacks against Syrian military units associated with chemical-weapons capacity and infrastructure. But those could be quite punishing and comprehensive,” writes Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official who is now a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Obama’s experience with inherited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has taught him that means and ends must match, Mr. Miller writes in Politico. Military action needs to be calibrated to what the US wants to accomplish.
“Given his low expectations on what the United States can do to actually end the civil war in Syria, he’ll be very sober about what can be accomplished through any discrete military action,” according to Miller.
And to this point in his presidency, Obama has been a reluctant interventionist.
In Libya, the president allowed France and Britain to take the lead in airstrikes intended to help oust Muammar Qaddafi. To critics, Obama was “leading from behind.”
In Syria, the administration has been reluctant to side with rebel groups looking to oust Mr. Assad, given the Islamist nature of some rebels and the fractured state of the opposition coalition.
In the administration’s view, the struggle in Syria is a deeply rooted conflict among many factions. Fighting is likely to continue even if Assad is ousted. US military options need to be considered in that context, according to the nation’s highest-ranking officer.
“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides,” wrote Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a letter to Rep. Eliot Engel (D) of New York.
It’s possible that the US will enable its allies to strike Syria. This could take the form of providing logistics and intelligence for other nations, such as France, Britain, or Turkey, to take the lead in airstrikes.
That would be consistent with the administration’s generally realist approach to international interventionism, according to Daniel Drezner, professor of international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
However, while that worked in Libya, it’s not clear that it could succeed in Syria, Professor Drezner adds in a post on his Foreign Policy magazine blog. The Syrian air defense system is far more capable than was Libya’s. Assad’s military appears committed to fighting to the bitter end.
“Is it possible for US forces to play a strictly supporting role that enables French or other forces to take kinetic action in Syria? Or does that option not really exist?” Drezner muses.
The 1999 NATO-led air war over Kosovo may be a precedent and model for US action in Syria. That campaign was multilateral, relied on air power, and achieved its political objective of forcing Serbia to stop fighting and pull back its military; then Kosovo became an autonomous Albanian enclave, writes Slate military expert Fred Kaplan.
However, that result required boots on the ground – tens of thousands of NATO peacekeepers dispatched to the area after fighting stopped. That’s unlikely to be matched in Syria anytime soon.
If Obama does approve military action, what will its objectives be? That’s the crucial question of any military intervention, according to Mr. Kaplan.
“It should be asked, and answered, before a decision is made to intervene – along with a calculation of how much effort might be needed to accomplish those objectives and whether the cost is worth the benefit,” he writes.
Kaplan adds that destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons capability might be difficult, given how easy it is to hide such weapons. More feasible might be destruction of Assad’s air force. That’s something the US could do, wrote Dempsey in his letter to Representative Engel.
“The loss of Assad’s Air Force would negate his ability to attack opposition forces from the air, but it would also escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict,” according to Dempsey.
He began by calling the judgment "questionable." Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman was acquitted of manslaughter and murder charges in his killing of Trayvon, who was 17, unarmed, and black.
But just as interesting as his doubts about the justice of the verdict are his doubts about the historical importance of the case. While the trial stirred deep questions about race in America, Mr. Powell seemed to dismiss the idea that it would leave any lasting imprint.
"I don't know if it will have staying power," he said. "These cases come along, and they blaze across the midnight sky and then after a period of time, they're forgotten."
It raises the question: What might the enduring impact of the Zimmerman trial be – if any?
Certainly, State of Florida v. George Zimmerman is no Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court ruling in 1954 that found "separate but equal" treatment of blacks unconstitutional and laid the groundwork for the end of Jim Crow and the rise of the Civil Rights Era. By most legal and cultural measures, the impact of the Zimmerman case on America has been negligible.
Yet the Zimmerman trial convulsed the nation, and, in the end, compelled the president – the nation's first black president – to speak at length about the racial aspects of the case through his own lens.
In an article in Time magazine, Powell said the Rev. Martin Luther King's March on Washington – commemorated Saturday in 50th-anniversary celebrations – held up a mirror for America to examine itself on the issue of race. In its own way, the Zimmerman trial did the same thing.
Speaking on "Face the Nation," Powell offered this racial "report card" since 1963: "Enormous progress has been made. African-Americans and other minorities have moved to the top of every institution in American society." But he added: "There are still problems in this country.... There is still racial bias that exists in certain parts of our country."
As was apparent during President Obama's 2009 "beer summit," which attempted to reconcile a white Cambridge, Mass., cop with a black Harvard professor, racial lines still exist in American society, but they are becoming more blurred. Racism is no longer as obvious as water cannons and seats at the back of the bus. Many times, it is still there, only subtler. Many times, it is perceived where none exists.
The phantom of a racist past is dispersing, but slowly, Powell seems to be saying.
The Zimmerman trial bore witness to that process. The judge specifically barred a discussion of race from the courtroom, and jurors have said race had nothing to do with the verdict. Yet other legal experts have chided the prosecution for not insisting on bringing race to the table, saying it was the foundation of the case. Zimmerman tracked Trayvon through a gated community, they say, because Zimmerman assumed Trayvon was a criminal because he was black.
Was the case about race? Was it not? The very fact that the question was asked – but was seemingly impossible to answer conclusively – speaks poignantly of the state of racial affairs in the country today.
Powell imagined Sunday what Dr. King's message to America today might be. He would say, " 'Congratulations on all progress that's been made, but let's keep going,' " Powell said. "If Dr. King were here, he would be jabbing us" to keep moving forward.
In some ways, the Zimmerman trial stands as a marker of this progress on race. In 1992, there was little question that the beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King had racial overtones. The verdict in that case plunged Los Angeles into debilitating racial riots. But attempts at race-baiting in the Zimmerman trial were faced down. While Americans might honestly differ on whether they believe race played a factor, race was not allowed to become a vehicle for further hate and lawlessness.
King would surely have been glad of that.
Yet the case, in Powell's words about King, also "jabbed us." It became the vessel for Americans of good conscience to examine their own and see if the subtler forms of racism – the sort that Mr. Obama said causes some whites to lock their doors when a black man passes – have been exposed and rooted out. It challenged a nation to move beyond a formal and legal denial of racism and instead take the case to their own hearts.
"We should not overlook how far we've come since 1963. I have seen things that I couldn't have imagined. That is a remarkable improvement," Powell said. "But we're not there yet."
On Wednesday, Senator Coburn told a meeting of 300 constituents in Muskogee, Okla., that the Obama administration is “lawless” and that Mr. Obama himself is “getting perilously close” to the constitutional standard for impeachment.
“I quite frankly think he’s in a difficult position he’s put himself in, and if it continues, I think we’re going to have another constitutional crisis in our country in terms of the presidency,” Coburn said.
Impeachment has been a topic at a number of Republican lawmaker home-state meetings this month. Asked about the possibility of impeaching the president, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas this week answered, “That’s a good question.”
Earlier in the month, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) of Texas said, “If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, we would probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it.” In Michigan, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R) said that “it would be a dream come true” to file impeachment charges against Obama but that right now, he does not have enough evidence to do so.
Wow – so will Republicans in Congress reconvene this fall and begin a serious attempt to remove the president from office?
No. No, they won’t. You figured that was the answer here, right?
Partly that’s because some of the Republicans who have mentioned it may just be trying to appease their audience. In open forums, GOP lawmakers continue to get constituent questions dealing with the discredited notion that Obama was born in Kenya. A pivot to notional impeachment talk is one way to handle these queries.
“Don’t take any of this too seriously,” noted Allahpundit on the right-leaning Hot Air website.
If you look at a video of his comments, you’ll see that “Farenthold’s not floating impeachment,” Allahpundit wrote. “He’s just trying to make a Birther go away. This is his way of appeasing her.”
But the main reason impeachment talk is just talk is because the GOP leadership does not really believe the evidence regarding Benghazi, the IRS targeting of tea party groups, and the failed "Fast and Furious" gunrunning effort shows impeachable offenses.
Even if the House impeached the president, the Democratic-controlled Senate would never vote to remove him from office. And if the House began impeachment proceedings prior to the approaching midterm elections, voters might revolt, former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele noted earlier this month.
Representative Farenthold is “flat wrong” about sentiment in the House for impeachment, Mr. Steele said on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” He added that public talk about impeachment by GOP lawmakers was “asinine.”
“If you really want to give away the House, go ahead, start impeachment. Because the fact of the matter is ... the public as a whole would repel against that so much that it wouldn’t even be funny,” Steele said.
Republicans probably would not try to impeach Obama even if they retake the Senate in 2014. Senator Cruz, for instance, has said that he would not go down the impeachment road under those circumstances.
“I think we should focus on fights that would make a difference, restoring economic growth and opportunity, and fights that we have a realistic prospect of winning,” Cruz told Katrina Trinko of the right-leaning National Review.
As to impeachment, “that’s not a fight we have a prospect of winning,” Cruz said.
The chances of a “spurious” impeachment of Obama now appear low, wrote left-leaning blogger Jonathan Bernstein earlier this year.
Mr. Bernstein had long predicted that the GOP-controlled House would mount an impeachment attempt. With the passage of time, he now believes that the House leadership appears to have learned from the impeachment of President Clinton that such proceedings help the president and hurt the pro-impeachment party.
“... I think the final word on this is likely to be [Speaker] John Boehner’s demonstrated ability in guiding House Republicans past their worst self-destructive instincts,” wrote Bernstein.
President Obama at his Aug. 9 press conference said that to “move the debate forward” on National Security Agency surveillance capabilities, he would appoint a high-level group of outside experts to review US intelligence and communications technologies.
This smart-person SWAT team will consider how to maintain the trust of the people in the intelligence programs, while making sure there is “absolutely” no abuse in terms of how those programs are used, Mr. Obama said.
“They will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy,” he said.
Sixty days is a tight time frame, so this panel needs to start work. According to ABC News, the White House has now picked its members. They are a group of veteran security experts and former White House officials, according to ABC.
The names mentioned are not really “outside” experts, according to some critics. They are people who have ties to many current programs and officials.
“Privacy advocates aren’t happy with the composition of the group revealed so far,” writes Andrea Peterson on The Washington Post’s “Switch” technology and policy blog.
According to ABC, members will include Michael Morell, a career intelligence officer who recently retired after serving as acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official in the Bush administration; Peter Swire, a former special assistant to Obama for economic policy; and Cass Sunstein, a legal scholar who until a year ago was the current administration’s regulatory czar.
Mr. Sunstein in particular is viewed with suspicion by some critics of NSA activities. In the past, he has advocated that the government “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites in the name of increasing confidence in government activities.
The names published by ABC are not exactly diverse in terms of experience and generally have ties to the Obama administration, writes George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr on the legal blog “The Volokh Conspiracy.”
But it is likely that the administration needed people with preexisting security clearances to meet their challenging schedule. And “the group might be effective in the end, as they each bring a different skill set and perspective to the problem,” Mr. Kerr writes.
Pfc. Bradley Manning intends to live as a woman named Chelsea Manning, he announced in a letter provided to NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday morning.
Manning’s statement comes one day after a military judge sentenced him to 35 years in prison for leaking more than 700,000 classified government files to WikiLeaks.
“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” Manning told “Today.”
Manning’s avowed transgender status is no surprise given that testimony during his trial indicated a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, meaning he wants to live as the opposite sex. Prior to his arrest, he created an alternative identity known as “Breanna” and sent his military therapist a photo of himself wearing lipstick and a blond wig.
Some profiles of Manning published prior to his trial included extensive information about his struggles with gender identity.
But during the trial, Manning’s lawyers referred to him as male. Now he says he would like to switch. Will the military prison system accommodate such a change?
After all, the process Manning would like to undergo can take a long time. It involves therapy, a period of hormone therapy, and perhaps eventual surgical change. And Manning will be behind bars for a long time – at least seven years, and possibly much longer.
Right now it appears that during incarceration, he will have to live as a male. According to the Army, inmates in military prisons are allowed wide access to mental-health professionals. But the military system is under no obligation to help Manning or anyone else change genders, according to Defense Department officials.
“The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder,” Kimberly Lewis, a spokesman for the Army’s Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas, told NBC News.
If Manning were a civilian convicted in the federal court system, the situation could be somewhat different. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, since 2011, federal inmates have had a right to receive an evaluation of their gender status, and where applicable, a treatment plan for gender identity disorder (GID) that is consistent with the current standards of care.
In federal prisons, “even inmates who had not been diagnosed with GID prior to incarceration are entitled to an evaluation and possible hormone therapy,” according to an ACLU summary of transgender legal rights.
State prisons are stricter, however, and they house the vast majority of US prisoners. Transgender inmates in state prisons are frequently denied transition-related health care, according to the ACLU, and courts are reluctant to order medical care not deemed necessary by prison medical officials.
Manning is also likely to be housed with male prisoners. Courts generally support the decisions of prison officials as to where prisoners should be housed, and unless a transgender person has already undergone surgery, that housing is likely to be with their birth gender.
Manning’s lawyer David Coombs told “Today” that his client’s goal is not to be assigned to a woman’s prison.
“I think the ultimate goal is to be comfortable in her skin and to be the person that she’s never had the opportunity to be,” Mr. Coombs said.
The five-year-old Bo wasn’t getting enough doggie interaction, apparently, so a new addition was brought in to amplify the romping level in the Rose Garden. Sunny is 14 months old, was born in Michigan, and arrived at the White House on Monday.
“Sunny is the perfect little sister for Bo – full of energy and very affectionate – and the first family picked her name because it fit her cheerful personality,” said a White House blog post announcing the pet event.
As you might imagine, this fluffy, feel-good story is big Tuesday in social media. FLOTUS (that’s first lady of the US Michelle Obama, if you didn’t know) welcomed the new member of her family with a Twitter-pic post of the two dogs on the South Lawn with the Washington Monument in the background. Lots of room to run, it looks like.
President Obama tweeted a similar welcome, while the D.C.-based mainstream media spent much of Tuesday trying to figure out clever 140-character dog-related remarks for their own social platforms. A favorite of ours came from Washington Examiner political writer Rebecca Berg: “Team of rivals,” she wrote in a comment on a White House Instagram shot of Sunny and Bo.
That’s a reference to President Lincoln’s famously ambitious and cantankerous Cabinet, in case you didn’t know.
However, not everyone was completely, 100 percent happy about the choice of the new dog.
Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, noted on his blog Tuesday that the Obamas made little reference to exactly where Sunny came from, other than to note that it’s the Great Lakes State.
But given her pure-bred status, it’s unlikely that Sunny came from a rescue organization or a shelter.
“As we always say in such circumstances, we hope the Obamas considered adoption or rescue as the first choice in obtaining a pet,” wrote Mr. Pacelle.
Pacelle did thank the Obamas for making a donation to the Humane Society in Sunny's name. He also thanked the administration for pushing two rules to help reduce the suffering of dogs sold in retail commerce. One would ban importation from foreign countries of any puppy-mill dog younger than six months. Another would close a loophole and require inspection and licensing of Internet sellers of puppy-mill dogs.
But the administration hasn’t yet issued final regulations for these moves.
“It’s time for the White House to make these policies law. No more delays,” wrote Pacelle.
As to the rescue dog issue, about 21 percent of America’s 78 million canine companions came from rescue or shelter organizations, according to Humane Society figures.
One big area of progress has been the decreasing use of euthanasia to put down unclaimed and unadopted shelter animals.
From 1970 to 2010, the number of such euthanizations went down by 12 million to 20 million, to an estimated 3.4 million.
“However, there’s still work to do: An estimated 2.7 million healthy shelter pets are not adopted each year,” according to the Humane Society.