Virginia ought to be in the running for worst U.S. senators in the country, a couple of walking catastrophes empowered in part by their status as Democrats and, in one case, the status of rightful Vice President if not for various outrages, real (the Electoral College, vote suppression) and imagined (Vladimir Putin’s evil manipulation of the time-space continuum). While Senator Mark Warner loves him some torturers he can confirm to high office, Tim Kaine has bigger plans.
Senator Tim Kaine has short- and long-term scams for permawar. But his short-term racket just ran into an obstacle. When Kaine proposes a new AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a.k.a. formal renunciation of Congressional war powers), he pretends it’s a means of taking war powers back for Congress from presidents. That pretense has just become a lot harder to maintain, because Senator Jeff Merkley has announced that he will introduce a new AUMF that actually does what Kaine falsely claims his does. In fact, 50 members of Congress have just signed a letter backing actual, rather than pretend, retaking of war powers for Congress. According to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, “After 16+ years of war, the last thing we need is another blank check like #CorkerKaine.” (The reference is to the AUMF proposed by Kaine and Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee). Even the ACLU, which only just this year began opposing wars, has joined other groups in opposing Senators Kaine’s and Corker’s duplicitous efforts to bestow royal war powers on the White House.
Now, any AUMF unconstitutionally circumvents a real declaration of war, and utterly fails to in any way legalize the international crime of waging war, which is banned with narrow exceptions by the UN Charter and without exceptions by the Kellogg-Briand Pact. But an AUMF as broad as Kaine’s is significantly more dangerous than one with greater limitations.
Then there’s the long-term strategy. The War Powers Act of 1973 unconstitutionally circumvents the Constitution’s provision of war powers to Congress, and utterly fails to in any way legalize the crime of war. But the existing War Powers Act is highly preferable to Senators Tim Kaine’s and John McCain’s (Republican, Arizona) War Powers Consultation Act. The Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress. The existing War Powers Act requires a president who launches a war on his/her own to notify Congress within 48 hours and to end it within 60 days unless Congress authorizes it. The McCain/Kaine bill would repeal the War Powers Act, turn Congress into an impotent consulting firm, and arrange for a vote without consequences on “approval” of each war within 30 days of its start. Only if Congress voted down “approval” would its invertebrate members vote on “disapproval.” And if they passed “disapproval,” nothing would follow from that. This amounts to nothing less than unconstitutionally bestowing the power to make war on the president.
That, of course, is something that everyone would expect of John McCain and nobody will believe of Tim Kaine even if he succeeds in doing it. But you can read the bill. Like most direct sources of information it is shorter than the commentary on it, and leaves little doubt what it would accomplish.
What can be done? I’d propose a 4-step program.
- Admit that we have a problem.
- Read the bills, ignore the rhetoric.
- Persuade some member of either house of Congress to introduce a better war powers bill, as Senator Merkley has proposed to introduce a better AUMF.
- Introduce into U.S. schools the existence of the U.N. Charter, what it says, what it means, and the understanding that laws do not cease to be laws based on whether a legislature or an executive violates them.