a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Van Hollen disappoints on Iran

Posted by Thomas Nephew on May 22nd, 2007

Last Wednesday evening, my representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) joined a minority of his own party but a nearly unanimous GOP bloc in sending the DeFazio amendment to the House Defense Appropriations bill (HR 1585) to defeat, 286-134, with 12 abstentions. From the brief debate as published in the Congressional Record, here’s the full text in full of that amendment:


(a) Rule of Construction.–No provision of law enacted before the date of the enactment of this Act shall be construed to authorize the use of military force by the United States against Iran.

(b) Requirements.–Absent a national emergency created by attack by Iran upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces, no funds appropriated pursuant to an authorization of appropriations in this Act or any other Act may be obligated or expended to initiate the use of military force against Iran unless the President receives authorization from Congress prior to initiating the use of military force against Iran.

As Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4) pointed out in his remarks,

This simply restates the Constitution of the United States and the War Powers Act. It is law, 93–148, and article I, section 8, of the Constitution. This is not about whether or not military action against Iran is wise or necessary. Regardless of how you come down on that question, I urge you to support the amendment. It is not about binding the President’s hands so he couldn’t retaliate if they are involved >in attacking our troops or capturing our troops in the area. It allows, as does the War Powers Act, in the event of any attack by Iran on the United States, its territories or possessions or Armed Forces, it is fully within the President’s purview to respond.

(Links added.) Rising in opposition was presidential candidate Duncan Hunter (R-CA-52), who said too late! we already are at war:

Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong opposition to this amendment. We have been at war with the radical Islamic jihadists ever since they supported and fomented that storming of our embassy in 1979. They held Americans hostage and they held them for 444 days, and every President since President Carter has renewed the national emergency with respect to Iran, most recently on March 8 of this year.

If you look at the War Powers Act, Mr. Chairman, it states that a national emergency does justify the President utilizing his constitutional powers as Commander in Chief. My reading of this amendment is that this proposal, this amendment, changes the War Powers Act and extracts that power from the President of the United States. We have had Democrat and Republican Presidents renewing that finding and that national emergency status with respect to Iran.

Hunter — one of the worst of the yahoos (“even if it involves very high-pressure techniques, one sentence: Get the information”) in last week’s Republican presidential debate — went on to recite the meaningless claim that some of the expertise and materials for IEDs in Iraq “are being transferred from Iran.” So is some of the airborne dust in Iraq, that doesn’t prove Tehran is behind it.

Yet Hunter’s arguments seem to have prevailed with Van Hollen — chair of the DCCC — and all too many of his Democratic colleagues. Nell Lancaster notes netroots faves Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak and Carol Shea-Porter among their number as well. Curiously, Nancy Pelosi is nowhere to be found on the roll call, not even under abstentions. Almost more curiously, frequent local bete noire Democrat Al Wynn is among the abstentions; along with his cosponsorship of Kucinich’s Cheney impeachment bill, Wynn is arguably more “progressive” of late than Van Hollen. Few things concentrate the political mind more than a healthy electoral scare, I guess.

This was a pitiful abdication of legitimate Congressional powers to a President who really doesn’t need any more encouragement to go off half-cocked. Between this and similar moves during the runup to the late lamented Iraq supplemental, Congress has all but signalled “go ahead if you want” when a war with Iran would be — what’s the phrase I’m looking for — a fricking catastrophe that would make Iraq look like a picnic in the park.

The DeFazio amendment may not have had much of a chance for all I know, but that shouldn’t have mattered. While I’ve generally sung his praises here in this little blog of mine, this time I think Van Hollen really screwed up badly, and he should hear about it.

NOTES: Links within DeFazio’s statement lead to FindLaw’s discussion of Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution, the Yale University Avalon Project discussion of the War Powers Act, the Wikipedia discussion of the same, and the text of 50 USC 1541, where the War Powers Act is found in the United States Code. “Worst of the yahoos”: New York Times transcript of the disgusting Republican debate in South Carolina last week, via Roy Edroso, whose precis of that debate is hilarious and indispensable.

UPDATE, 8/20: A belated note, here for starters, that Rep. Van Hollen responded by e-mail a couple of weeks ago to a protest e-mail of my own about this. Key quote: “I am, however, somewhat wary of passing legislation that says the President may not violate the Constitution with respect to one country (such as Iran), because singling out one country only could lead to the false impression that the Congress would countenance unauthorized and unconstitutional military actions against another country (such as Syria).” That seems pretty weak to me; by that token, passing a law specifically penalizing the murder of, say, DEA agents could lead to the impression Congress countenances the murder of mailmen.

2 Responses to “Van Hollen disappoints on Iran”

  1. Nell Says:

    I see the hand of Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC weighing heavily on this vote. Freshmen Dems who’re getting a lot of DCCC support already are being told, “You’re vulnerable until you win that next election. Play it safe.”
    And WTF is this with Pelosi not even being recorded among those not voting? It’s one thing not to vote, but if you’re alive, you should be in that list somewhere.
    It’s easy to imagine that there are times when members of Congress wish they could slip into another dimension, where they neither vote yes nor vote not — in fact they don’t even not vote! Pelosi is an accomplished politician, maybe she’s discovered the doorway to that dimension somewhere in the recesses of the Capitol…

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I see the hand of Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC weighing heavily on this vote. Freshmen Dems who’re getting a lot of DCCC support already are being told, “You’re vulnerable until you win that next election. Play it safe.”
    Anything in the press about that? Not saying you’re wrong, just haven’t seen that. I did notice a “sharks are circling” type article in WaPo or somewhere about an NY frosh Congresswoman, name escapes me, who is already facing deep pockets GOP opponents. So I suppose they are vulnerable, though it seems to me like standing up to Bush about yet another war is “playing it safe” and smart.
    One DCCC-related item I noticed is that James Carville was the pitchman for one of their e-mail fundraising letters lately — I still haven’t forgotten him wanting Dean thrown out as DNC chair right after the election.

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