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Should Congress Have a Role in Authorizing Military Force?

When four American soldiers were killed in Niger recently, many people were surprised to know that the U.S. military was operating in that country. Even though it is not widely publicized, there are U.S. troops conducting military operations in a variety of countries around the globe. Some members of Congress think that these operations call for a blessing from the legislative branch. The Trump Administration, however, rejects calls for Congress to pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).


The president is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but only Congress can declare war. After the September 11, 2001, attacks, Congress passed an AUMF that led to military operations in Afghanistan. Congress also passed an AUMF prior to the invasion of Iraq. Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump have used these authorizations of force to expand the U.S. military role far beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, however.


The presidential use of an AUMF to justify military action in numerous nations rankles some in Congress. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are pushing for a new AUMF to target al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. This AUMF would have a five-year sunset and would require congressional oversight if fighting occurs outside Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, or Somalia. Those pushing for a new AUMF contend that the original authorization passed in 2001 only targeted those who planned or aided the 9-11 attacks. As such, they say, it cannot also authorize the use of force against ISIS or other terrorist organizations.


There was debate in 2015 over an AUMF to fight ISIS (or ISIL) after President Obama had already committed military forces against that group. The president submitted a resolution for new authorization, and many members of Congress (including Sens. Kaine and Flake) pushed for consideration. However, Congress never passed an authorization and the president did not stop military action against ISIS.


President Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, rejects calls to pass a new AUMF. Testifying before Congress, he said, “The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force, or AUMF, remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat.” In general, presidents have opposed efforts by Congress to interfere with or place limits on the executive branch’s power to deploy military forces.


Do you think that Congress should vote on a new authorization to use military force against terrorist groups? Or does the 2001 authorization of force provide justification for President Trump’s military actions? 


Trump Puts Pressure on Iran


President Donald Trump is not a fan of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under President Obama. He has spent years criticizing it. Now he is saying that he won’t certify that Iran is complying with the agreement. What does that mean for the U.S.?


While President Trump can play a key role in determining the future of U.S. policy toward Iran, there are other nations involved in the agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear activities. The “Iran Deal,” as many call it, also involves China, France, Russia, the U.K., and Germany. These nations, in essence, negotiated with Iran to limit its program to acquire nuclear arms in exchange for the relaxation of sanctions. If the president and Congress both want the U.S. to act alone to ramp up these sanctions, however, that could do a lot of damage to this multi-party agreement.


By itself, the president’s announcement does not do anything to derail the deal. Under a 2015 U.S. law passed after the Iran deal was negotiated, the U.S. has the power to re-impose its sanctions only if Congress and the president agree. Under this law, every 90 days the president must certify that Iran is complying with its part of the bargain. If the president does not do this, Congress has 60 days within which it can re-impose sanctions on Iran.


President Trump’s announcement that he would not certify Iran as in compliance with the deal triggers that 60-day window in which Congress can choose to act. However, Congress does not have any obligation to re-impose sanctions. The Trump Administration has even said that it does not want to see sanctions put back in place; instead, it is calling for Congress to set forth new conditions under which these sanctions would be re-instated in the future.


There are a few vocal members of Congress who have long urged a harder line on Iran. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), for instance, is pushing legislation that would set in place a system for automatically re-imposing sanctions on Iran for noncompliance. It is unclear if this type of proposal has enough support in Congress to pass. There is also a chance that, once legislation is introduced, Congress could amend it to re-impose sanctions immediately.


The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran is dismantling its nuclear program in response to this agreement. If Congress and President Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran, many observers think that Iran would view this act as freeing it from the conditions of the multi-party agreement.


Do you think the U.S. should continue to be part of the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Or is President Trump right that this deal is bad for the U.S.?


Sanctuary City Issue Heating up at Federal, State Levels


Cities that have enacted so-called “sanctuary” policies for illegal immigrants are coming under fire by the Trump Administration and politicians at the state level. Will these efforts bring an end to “sanctuary cities” and force these cities to work with the federal government on immigration laws?


Sanctuary cities are localities that do not comply with requests from the federal government concerning illegal immigrants or who do not check the immigration status of individuals arrested within their jurisdiction. As explained in a previous blog post, cities and states are doing nothing illegal when they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. That does not mean that these local governments can undertake such actions with no repercussions, however.


Even though sanctuary city policies are not violating federal law, they are unpopular with many conservative politicians. Some states have moved to prohibit local governments from enacting such policies. The latest to consider this type of legislation is Michigan. Two bills being considered by legislators in that state would bar sanctuary policies. One bill would require local law enforcement officers to report illegal immigrants to federal immigration authorities, while the other bill would prohibit local governments from enacting policies that restrict communicating or cooperating with federal immigration authorities.


In Virginia, the Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie, has promised that if he is elected he will push for legislation barring local governments in the commonwealth from becoming sanctuary cities.


At the federal level, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that some federal grant money would be withheld from sanctuary cities. According to his statement, “the Department will only provide Byrne JAG grants to cities and states that comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.”


Some cities that have sanctuary policies have vowed to fight this action in court, contending that the attorney general does not have the authority to impose these restrictions.


Do you support state and federal efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities? Or do you think that this issue should be left to a city’s elected officials to decide?


Nevada Assembly Bill 2


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Nevada, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Assembly Bill 2, Expand Patriot Relief Act Payments for National Guard: Passed 21 to 0 in the state Assembly on March 27, 2017.


To make all National Guard members experiencing hardship eligible for payments from this state account, not just those on active duty, and to clarify that payment of benefits from the Account can be made only if there is money in the account.


Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Assembly Bill 2!

What to Do About North Korea?

North Korea – a key part of President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” – recently completed a successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. That is grave news for anyone concerned about what would happen if North Korea obtains a nuclear weapon that could deliver a nuclear blast as far away as Alaska). However, there is no consensus among United States, South Korea, China, and other nations about what can be done in response.


U.S. conflict with North Korea dates back to the 1950s, when North Korea invaded South Korea. The U.S. joined forces with the United Nations in military action to repel the invasion. In more recent times, American foreign policy towards North Korea has been aimed at preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons. President Clinton tried traditional diplomatic engagement, while Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama supported sanctions.


Regardless of U.S. policy, however, North Korea’s leaders continue the nation’s unique path on the world stage. North Korea is a highly isolated country ruled by the communist dictator Kim Jong-un, who replaced his father, Kim Il-Sung.


North Korea has consistently reneged on arms control agreements aimed at stopping its nuclear program, and it has made steady progress towards obtaining nuclear weapons technology and developing missiles capable of carrying these weapons.


Like his predecessors, Donald Trump has few good options for dealing with this rogue state. He has suggested that China should do more to handle North Korea because China is one of the few nations that has a relationship with the nation. But Chinese officials push back strongly against suggestions that they could do more to corral Kim.


What do you think the U.S. should do with North Korea? Do favor more diplomatic talks with the country? Should the U.S. undertake military action? Should President Trump and Chinese leaders work more closely together to see what can be done?


U.S. Senate Bill 722


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Congress, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Senate Bill 722, Impose sanctions on Iran: Passed 98 to 2 in the U.S. Senate on June 15, 2017


To impose sanctions blocking the assets of individuals who contribute to Iran’s ballistic missile program or who sell military equipment to Iran. The bill also gives the president authority to impose sanctions on anyone in Iran who engages in torture or extrajudicial killings.


Comment below to share what you think of U.S. Senate Bill 722!


U.S. House Resolution 11: Disapprove of UN Resolution Condemning Israel


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. House, and check-in to the app to see how your legislators voted.


U.S. House Resolution 11, Disapprove of UN resolution condemning Israel: Passed 342 to 80 in the U.S. House on January 5, 2017


To express the sense of the House of Representatives that it opposes United Nations resolution 2334, which condemned Israel for building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. When the U.N. Security Council passed this resolution in December 2016, the U.S. representative to the U.N. abstained from the vote. This allowed the resolution to be adopted after many past votes brought by Israel opponents were defeated by a US veto. Since a future repeal effort can also be vetoed by other Security Council members including Russia and China, it probably means the resolution will remain in effect indefinitely.





Highlights of the First Presidential Debate


In the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the candidates clashed over a number of issues, including the economy, race relations, policing, and national security.


One of the main themes of the night for Trump was that the U.S. is being held back by bad deals, including trade agreements like NAFTA, defense agreements with nations like Japan, or national security agreements like the one negotiated with Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons. He said that he would bring his experience as a businessman to the office of president and negotiate better deals for the U.S.


Clinton stressed that she is prepared to be president, bolstering her case by focusing on policy specifics. She also made pointed appeals to minority voters and women voters.


The two candidates did not hesitate to attack one another. Clinton scored against Trump by going into a lengthy discussion of his refusal to release his tax returns and his questioning of whether President Obama was born in the United States. Trump hit Clinton on her e-mail server scandal. He also attempted to use the experience issue against her, saying that Clinton has been in politics for 30 years but has not used that time to address the problems she is discussing during the campaign.


Areas of agreement


While the debate mainly consisted of Trump and Clinton pointing out how they differed, there were some areas of agreement. While Trump strongly attacked free trade agreements such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, Clinton also took a skeptical view of many trade deals.


On gun control, Clinton called for stronger measures to restrict gun sales. One of the proposals she stressed was prohibiting individuals on the no-fly list from being able to purchase firearms. While Trump did not explicitly endorse this idea, he did suggest that he may agree with it.


Both Clinton and Trump agreed that the U.S. should concentrate more on cybersecurity issues.


Areas of disagreement


On the economy, Trump said that he would create jobs in the U.S. by re-negotiating trade agreements, cracking down on companies that invest overseas, lowering taxes so that the wealthy create jobs, and cutting middle class taxes.


Clinton laid out a plan for economic growth that consists of creating new government programs for things like paid family leave and college tuition subsidies. She also repeatedly called for raising taxes on the wealthy. She said that Trump’s tax cuts are “trickle down” and will not work, befitting Trump himself, not the American people.


On crime, Trump said, “We need law and order.” He vigorously defended the controversial stop-and-frisk practice that came under fire and was halted by a judge in New York City. Clinton said there was an epidemic of gun violence and called for more gun control


When it came to national security, Trump blames Obama and Clinton for creating a vacuum that led to ISIS. He said the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil to deprive ISIS of income. Clinton accused Trump of not caring whether other nations obtained nuclear weapons, but Trump countered that he believed nuclear weapons (not global warming) was the single greatest threat to the U.S.


On the nuclear issue, Clinton said, “The man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his finger near the nuclear codes…”


Their best lines?


Clinton: “I have a feeling by the end of this evening I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened.”

Trump: “Why not?”
Clinton: “Why not? Yeah, why not? Just join the debate by saying more crazy things.”


Trump: “I have a much better temperament than she does… my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament.”


Clinton: “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that's a good thing.”


Trump (on who may have hacked the DNC e-mails): “It could have been Russia. It could be China. It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”


What do you think?

Do you think Clinton or Trump won the debate? What do you think was their strongest moment against each other?

At VMI, Kaine makes renewed push for war powers vote against Islamic State

Sen. Tim Kaine is calling on Congress to authorize military action against the Islamic State, or ISIS. President Obama has already ordered some attacks on ISIS without congressional approval. Do you think Sen. Kaine has the right idea? Or should the U.S. end military action in this area?

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