Last summer, Clinton administration officials characterized the Haiti operation as a mere police action, a semantic dodge designed to avoid the need for congressional authorization.
Some of my Democratic colleagues suggested that the war clause of the Constitution was entirely ceremonial and that the President had virtually unlimited discretion to order an invasion of Haiti. These were some of the same Democrats who stood here on the floor and said President Bush did not have the authority to act in the gulf without congressional assent; proving the axiom that Senators and Congressmen tend to pick what side of their issue they are on depending on the partisan need.
We have the interesting phenomena, Republicans on the floor who said there was a broad range of congressional authority, but when it came to Clinton exercising it, saying, no, he did not have the authority; and Democrats who were on the floor telling President Bush he did not have the authority but saying, no, President Clinton does. To be sure, there were some of my Republicans and Democratic friends who were consistent-who may have questioned the President's policy in Haiti but did not question the right to deploy those troops in the absence of congressional consent.
In my view, the assertions expressed during the Haitian crisis underscore that the doctrine asserted by President Nixon 25 years ago still grips the executive branch. More alarming, the congressional viewpoints I summarized suggest that the legislative surrender of the war power continues, based in part on whether or not the man or woman in power is a man of your party and whether you agree with him on the substance of the action.Other recent posts have noted a similar phenomenon with debates over the filibuster.