Idaho House Urges Congress: Declare War Before Deploying National Guard

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2020-03-30 News |
BOISE, Idaho -- The Idaho House of Representatives, in the midst of a public health crisis in which America's military forces are being increasingly called on to support civilian response to the coronavirus pandemic, Friday adopted a resolution urging Congress in the future to formally declare war before taking Idaho National Guard troops away from the state for deployment to combat duty overseas.

Floor sponsor Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, a former member of the Idaho National Guard, said the resolution was intended to demonstrate legislative support both for Idaho's National Guard personnel and the U.S. Constitution's clear assignment of war powers to the U.S. Congress.

"We urge the Congress of the United States, in the future, to fulfill its Constitutionally-prescribed duty to approve a declaration of war before the Idaho National Guard is deployed to combat operations on foreign soil," the resolution stated. (See Resolution)

The resolution was the result of efforts by Sgt. Dan McKnight -- also of Meridian and founder of BringOurTroopsHome.US, a nationally-expanding group led by Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans -- who served eighteen months in Afghanistan with the Idaho Army National Guard. McKnight's growing national movement has supported President Trump's efforts to withdraw U.S. troops from the Middle East and last week urged the President to begin by ordering the immediate return of all National Guard troops to assist their home states in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. (See News Release)

McKnight Saturday praised Idaho lawmakers for "recognizing a growing public demand to bring our troops home, and in the future, not to send them back into foreign combat unless Congress has first reassumed the Constitutional responsibility to declare war, a Constitutional duty and power the Congress for far too long has abdicated to the executive branch of our federal government."

The Idaho House is the second legislative body in recent weeks to adopt a similar resolution. Earlier this month, the West Virginia House of Delegates adopted a resolution rebuking Congress for shirking its Constitutional duty to declare war before U.S. troops are committed to combat overseas, and threatening that the state may refuse future federal orders to deploy its National Guard units to fight in such wars. (See Resolution)

Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, Afghanistan war veteran, and West Virginia spokesman for BringOurTroopsHome.US, said that "before approving the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers first sent resolutions to King George, believing they should at least try to convince the British government to stop violating the rights of American colonists."

"I applaud my House colleagues for taking a similar first step now," McGeehan said, "urging Congress to stop shirking its war powers duties under the Constitution and asserting that if they don't, West Virginia has the right to refuse future federal orders we judge to be in violation of the Constitution, such as sending our National Guard troops to fight in foreign wars without a Congressional declaration of war."

McGeehan earlier this year had introduced bipartisan legislation to give such policy the force of law, requiring that West Virginia's National Guard troops could not be deployed to foreign conflicts unless Congress had first declared war.

The legislation won support from both ends of the political spectrum, including endorsements by the national chairman of Vets for Trump and by the West Virginia ACLU. It was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee in February by a vote of 15-7, but stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, whose members preferred to try communicating the Legislature's sentiments to Congress first by resolution.

The resulting House Concurrent Resolution 141 was adopted by the full House by voice vote, urging that in the future, President Trump and Congress "take no action to employ military forces of the United States in active duty combat unless and until the U.S. Congress has passed an official declaration of war," and end the practice of deploying U.S. troops to foreign combat under so-called "blank check" Authorizations of Military Force (AUMFs) that have no expiration date or limits on U.S. military activity.

The resolution also urged the President and Congress "to explicitly execute a coherent and effectively resourced national security strategy" and "to end any periods of endless or perpetual armed conflict with no clear conditions of conclusion that risks the lives of our military members."

McGeehan noted that U.S. troops have been at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and multiple other African and Middle Eastern countries for nearly a generation based on an AUMF adopted by Congress nearly two decades ago, immediately following the Islamic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which means that all new members of Congress elected in the two decades since never cast a vote on whether to initially authorize such military action.

The resolution quoted founding fathers and framers of the U.S. Constitution -- former Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton -- who stated that under the Constitution, only Congress has the authority to declare war, and that the framers intended Congress be required to do so before U.S. troops are sent to fight in foreign conflicts.

"In spite of the clear language of the U.S. Constitution vesting the power over war exclusively in the U.S. Congress," the West Virginia resolution stated, "the U.S. executive branch has unconstitutionally assumed that power while the U.S. Congress has abdicated its Constitutional duty."

"Although the U.S. Congress has not declared war in over 70 years," the resolution continued, "the nation has since gone to war repeatedly at the direction of the executive branch and/or acted under perpetual authorizations to use military force passed by Congress empowering the executive branch to engage in unending war, clearly not what the Founding Fathers intended in the Constitution."

In response to such federal actions, the West Virginia resolution included what amounts to a threat that in the future, West Virginia officials may refuse to comply with federal orders -- such as refusing to allow the state's National Guard units to be mobilized by the federal government for foreign combat -- asserting that "when such unconstitutional actions are taken by the federal government, it is the proper role of the states themselves to take action to remedy such situations, as outlined in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798."

Those early American resolutions -- the first authored by President Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and the latter by James Madison, often called "The Father of the Constitution" -- were adopted by the Kentucky and Virginia state legislatures, respectively, immediately after the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the newly-formed United States, declaring that states are free under the Constitution to refuse to obey federal laws that state lawmakers judge to be unconstitutional.

McGeehan said he believes West Virginians would support the state making good on its threat to refuse federal orders mobilizing state National Guard personnel to overseas war unless Congress has first fulfilled its Constitutional duty to declare war, citing a Politico poll last year which found that 81 percent of those who voted for President Trump in 2016 supported his efforts to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

And McKnight cited a YouGov poll this past January which found that 70 percent of all Americans also support withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

But McKnight said the two resolutions approved by lawmakers in strongly Republican states in particular -- the Idaho House counts 56 Republicans and 14 Democrats, and the West Virginia House, 58 Republicans and 41 Democrats -- is a sign of growing support on the right for ending the two-decade old Bush-Cheney policy, continued under President Obama, of trying unsuccessfully to export Western style democracy to Islamic countries.

On that point, McKnight's efforts have won agreement from a nationally powerful member of his own state's Congressional delegation, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Risch, responding to a question from McKnight during a question-and-answer session before the Boise Chamber of Commerce, said he agreed with the Idaho veteran's objectives.

"I agree with you." Risch said. "Let me tell you why I share your feelings," he said, recounting America’s success at building viable democracies in post-war Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

“We’ve been at this now for over two decades," Risch said, "trying to replicate that success in the Middle East, and what do we have to show for it? A goose egg. …If you’re going to give somebody a gift of democracy, a free market system, human rights, of basic rights stated in our Bill of Rights and Constitution, they’ve got to want it, and if they don’t want it, it doesn’t matter how much you shovel at them, it isn’t going to happen.”

“We’ve spent $2 trillion now in Afghanistan," Risch said, "and we’ve shed lots and lots of American blood there. I’m with you. I am through trying to do nation-building with countries that don’t want it. They’ve got to show some type of an appreciation, some type of an embracement of it, and they simply don’t.” (See Video)

McKnight said BringOurTroopsHome.US will continue to support President Trump's promised efforts to end U.S. military involvement "in other people's civil wars, which some evidence suggests is what won him the 2016 election, and push him to recognize that he will never have a more perfect opportunity to keep that pledge than right now, when we're facing the most serious public health challenge of our lifetimes."

"There would be no stronger demonstration of the President's promise to put America first," McKnight said, "than to bring our troops home right now to help safeguard American cities, construct new medical treatment facilities for American coronavirus victims, and protect American medical supplies and infrastructure."

Del. Pat McGeehan can be reached for comment at 307-374-7018 or by email at pat.mcgeehan@wvhouse.gov