Accuracy in Media

Jim Lehrer of the public television show the Newshour with Jim Lehrer said that, in a 213-213 tie vote, the House had “declined to endorse” the bombing of Yugoslavia. That is technically true. But it also meant that the Clinton Administration started violating the law when it continued the bombing. The vote in the House made it official under the War Powers Resolution: the bombing of Yugoslavia is illegal and has to stop.

If this is news to you, then you are a victim of sloppy and erroneous media coverage. Simply put, journalists are not doing their homework. The recent votes in the House were prompted by Congressman Tom Campbell under consideration of the War Powers Resolution, which sets forth the conditions under which the president can deploy the Armed Forces of the United States. When the House failed to endorse the NATO bombing campaign and the president continued the bombing, the president came into violation of the law.

In an age of the Internet, when journalists and ordinary citizens can easily obtain access to the U.S. Code, there is no excuse for not telling the American people what is really going on. The War Powers Resolution can be found at Title 50 of the U.S. Code, sections 1541 through 1548. It says the president can deploy the armed forces when one of three conditions is met: a declaration of war, statutory authorization, or a national emergency created when there is an attack on the U.S., its possessions or the armed forces. He is ordered to withdraw those troops after 60 days without Congressional approval.

None of those conditions was met when the president deployed our troops to Yugoslavia. But when the House rejected a bill, by a tie vote, to authorize the bombing campaign, that meant the president was in violation of the law when the bombing continued. By failing to get House support for his policy, the president was in a position where he couldn’t get Congressional approval of the bombing. His only legal recourse was to withdraw those troops.

This is why, after that Congressional vote, 17 members of the House filed suit against Clinton to have the law enforced. The 17 members include 15 Republicans and two Democrats. The suit was filed by two lawyers, including Jules Lobel of the University of Pittsburgh, who issued a statement saying, “In a remarkable vote against the war in Yugoslavia, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 213 to 213, failed to give the president the constitutionally required authorization he needed to carry on the air war against Yugoslavia. The Constitution grants Congress the sole power to declare war. It must give its affirmative assent. It did not do so.”

They continued with their statement, “AContrary to the president’s statement that he will continue this war, he has no authority to do so. It would be a remarkable act of executive hubris and illegal as well to continue the bombing. It is a serious subversion of or constitutional structure (and is impeachable). His only option is to end the aerial bombardment and negotiate a peaceful solution.” So will the Congress and the media let the president violate yet another law?

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