The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. But that authority has shifted toward the White House in recent years, due partly to the passage of war authorizations that do not expire and presidential pursuits of huge arms sales – seen by policymakers as a source of U.S. jobs and a way to improve international ties.
The “National Security Powers Act” is only the latest effort by lawmakers to control weapons sales and push both Republican and Democratic presidents to consult Congress before getting involved in foreign conflicts.
“This shift in national security power to the president has resulted in endless wars, reckless levels of arms sales and national emergencies that seem to have no termination,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told a news conference.
Murphy introduced the legislation with Republican Senator Mike Lee and Independent Bernie Sanders.
The measure has three parts – one to increase Congress’ control over the authorization of military actions and limit their length, another to give Congress influence over the sales of lethal weapons and a third requiring Congress to approve within 30 days presidential declarations of “national emergencies,” which can be used to justify weapons sales or military strikes.
There are currently 30 national emergency declarations in effect in the United States. In 2019, then-President Donald Trump angered lawmakers, including some of his fellow Republicans, by declaring one at the border with Mexico in order to gain funding to build a wall at the frontier.
The new act’s path forward was not immediately clear. It would need to pass both the Senate and House of Representatives and be signed by President Joe Biden to become law.
The senators acknowledged that Biden, like other presidents, was unlikely to willing cede national security powers. But they said there was a growing coalition backing many of their ideas given instability in much of the world.
“You are just one day away from the United States falling into war by accident,” Lee said.
Lawmakers from both parties are separately working to repeal earlier congressional Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, or AUMFs, enacted decades ago for conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but still used to justify military strikes.
Congress passed legislation the senators sponsored in 2019 to end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war, but it did not survive Trump’s veto.
Trump also successfully vetoed resolutions to block huge weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.