Congressional Critics Dream of Confiscating Trump's Military Powers

Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) hold a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

Sen. Chris Murphy is leading the charge to prevent a first strike on North Korea, while others are renewing the call for a fresh charter on Trump’s ability to conduct war in the Middle East.

There are other efforts underway to curtail the military authority of the president, as well. Markey and Rep. Ted Lieu have legislation that would prohibit the president from using nuclear weapons unless it was authorized by Congress, or if a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies was actually underway. Says Bunn: “Most Presidents would argue that this is contrary to their power as Commander in Chief.  Like the North Korea legislation, this is not likely to become law in the current environment – though there’s a strong case to be made that it’s the right direction to go.”

And on Monday night, Mattis and Tillerson appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to defend the existing Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF), in effect the president’s charter for continued war against extremism in the Middle East. Tillerson noted that while they would welcome a renewed statement of support for their efforts, it is not necessary, and that a new AUMF that curtailed their autonomy would be potentially calamitous.

But the status quo is not going to cut it for Democrats and even some in the president’s own party who view him as reckless, to put it mildly. And Murphy doesn’t trust Tillerson, oft-hailed by the president’s critics as “one of the adults in the room.”

Murphy told me earlier this year that the former Exxon chief seeks to “neuter” his own department. “I think he took this job knowing that he was going to oversee the dramatic weakening of this department … he's been fairly enthusiastic in that endeavor.”

Critics of the president are clearly disturbed by many of the messages coming out of this White House. But absent a Democratic takeover of Congress in 2018, are their efforts to assert greater authority anything more than political statements-- or auditions to take on Trump in 2020?

Curt Mills is a foreign-affairs reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @CurtMills.

Image: Reuters

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