BuzzFeed’s Kate Nocera reported Friday that, unlike the Republicans in Congress ― who essentially are planning to drop articles of impeachment on Hillary Clinton sometime between her swearing-in and the first balls of inauguration night ― Democratic legislators do not have any sort of contingency plan if Donald Trump becomes president.
In and of itself, that’s not so foolish. If Trump is elected, my plan is to try to prevent hate crimes from happening in my neighborhood and, in all likelihood, to serve as a defendant in multiple defamation lawsuits.
In many ways, life gets pretty simple during a Trump presidency. Democratic legislators, according to Nocera, basically oppose Trump’s agenda and plan to vote against it if the need arises. Beyond that, their not having a plan stems from a mix of robust confidence in Clinton’s chances and the simple fact that you really cannot plan for chaos.
But buried down in Nocera’s piece, we find Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), having himself a major brainwave (emphasis mine):
Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut, said he felt Clinton’s numbers were “quite encouraging” though he did let himself contemplate a Trump presidency about a month ago.
“While my initial reaction was that it would be a total disaster to have a man with with a fourth grade knowledge of the constitution running the country, Congress would be forced to have a watchful check and balance on this guy. In particular, we’d need to reclaim war-making authority and I suspect many Republicans would join us in doing that,” Himes said.
Here’s a fun fact: Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution specifically grants Congress the power to declare war. The Constitution further informs us that once Congress has made a declaration of war, the president has the authority to direct the military.
What does Himes mean by “reclaiming?” Well, over the years, Congress has ceded a whole lot of power to the executive branch, including this very important check on war-making. Currently, Congress has granted the president the ability to pursue military engagements (also known as “war”) under a series of open-ended Authorizations for the Use of Military Force. The real advantage of an AUMF, from the point of view of Congress, is that it gets to take credit for granting the president the ability to go to war when the war is going well, and criticize the president when the war is going poorly.
Congress has, in recent years, pondered its forsworn constitutional duty on a couple of occasions. Back in 2011, when President Barack Obama wanted to establish a no-fly zone over Syria, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) suddenly discovered some zeal for formal war-declaration. As Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reported, Lugar maintained that Congress had to “pass a formal declaration of war if the Obama administration decides to take that step.”
But more often than not, Congress prefers to simply stretch out existing AUMFs to cover new wars or, failing that, play comical games of hot potato with the responsibility.
But according to Himes, Trump would change that calculus. And that is a good thing to hear, believe me.
But I would posit that the real problem here isn’t that Congress would have to begrudgingly “reclaim” its “war-making authority” from a hypothetical President Trump. The problem is that it ceded this power to any president in the first damned place.
Here’s a suggestion, Congress. If the polling projections hold and Clinton ends up winning the presidency, how about y’all just reclaim that authority anyway?
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.