Does Congress Ever Turn Down a Request for War?

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Plenty of people think Congress should be called back into session to conduct a vote on the bombing campaign in Syria. John Boehner disagrees:

Boehner’s office deferred to the White House when asked about the issue.

“As the Speaker has said, he thinks it would be good for the country to have a new authorization for the use of military force covering our actions against ISIL, but traditionally such an authorization is requested and written by the commander-in-chief — and President Obama has not done that,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said via email.

One of these days Boehner is going to have to make up his mind whether President Obama does too much or too little. It’s getting a little hard to keep up with him.

But this raises a question. Has Congress ever turned down a president who asked for authorization to use military force? Sure, there was Ford’s last-ditch aid request for Vietnam in 1975, but that was for the end of a war, not the start of one. Anything else? Do the fights over funding for the contras count? I feel like I’m going to be embarrassed when someone points out some famous congressional refusal that I’ve forgotten about, but I sure can’t dredge anything up.

Obviously Obama has philosophical reasons for insisting that he can go to war on his own, and he also has political reasons for not forcing fellow Democrats to take a tough vote. But does he have even the slightest chance of Congress actually turning him down?

UPDATE: OK, I’m already embarrassed. I guess you could count the non-vote on Syria last year, couldn’t you? After all, Obama did ask for permission to bomb Syria, and Congress did let it die without any real debate. On the other hand, I’d say that Obama mostly asked for authorization in the hopes of being turned down. He didn’t exactly put on a full-court press, did he?

Any other examples?

UPDATE 2: There have been a few other suggestions. (1) Congressional hindrance of FDR before Pearl Harbor. That was a mixed bag, and anyway, I guess I was thinking of more recent (postwar) history. (2) Kosovo and Libya. Interesting cases, but more of a muddle than an outright loss for the president. Congress approved some funding bills and denied others.

Still, there’s enough here to suggest that presidents often have to fight with Congress over military action. Especially Democratic presidents.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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