A picture of Representative David W. Jolly
David J.
Republican FL 13

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  • Congressional Authority Versus Presidential Authority

    by Representative David W. Jolly

    Posted on 2015-02-11

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    JOLLY. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity tonight to address a very important matter regarding the role of the Congress. And I would associate myself with the remarks of my colleague from New York (Mr. Tonko) about the role that this body plays in trade but also the role that this body plays in foreign policy and matters of diplomacy.

    Every American watches the news each day. We all see the same stories, be it ISIS, be it terror around the globe. We know that we, as a nation, are engaged against a threat that, left unchecked, could cause great harm to our homeland and to American interests abroad. We also have heard in recent news the conversation about the Prime Minister of Israel addressing our Nation.

    [[Page H973]] We have seen the President's negotiations with Cuba, the President's negotiations with Iran, and it begs the question: What is the role of Congress in all of these matters, in these matters of foreign policy and foreign affairs? So I appreciate the opportunity tonight to discuss a view of our side of the aisle and many in this Congress. I will be joined by my colleague from Illinois (Mr. Rodney Davis) shortly to specifically talk about the role that Congress provides in setting the direction of our Nation's foreign policy.

    This body is a coequal branch. We are established under article I of the Constitution, just as the administration is established under article II. We are coequal branches.

    This body, most every American knows, has the authority to declare war. This body does, this Congress does. We fund our diplomatic activities. We fund our military activities. We authorize the use of military force, as was affirmed by the President today in sending such a request to this body to ask for the constitutional affirmation of this body, of this Congress. And we do so routinely.

    So when we come across events where sometimes people question why Congress would inject itself into matters of national security, into matters of foreign affairs, let's revisit why and the important role that Congress has served.

    This body, this Congress rejected the President's negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and 1920. This body rejected the President's negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999. This body did that, reflecting the will of our constituents, of this Nation. This body, very importantly, investigated the Iran-Contra affair. This body investigated the intelligence activities related to 9/11. This body investigated the events of 2011 in Libya.

    We have the authority of the purse as well, as spending originates in this body. We have used that authority to limit the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo, over the objection of the President.

    We have used the constitutional authority of this body in matters of foreign aid and, at times, withholding foreign aid. Following the capture of Osama bin Laden and questions about Pakistan's role, this body responded by putting restrictions on that foreign aid. And, yes, this body provides billions to Israel as a matter of not only protecting the security of Israel but furthering our national security in the Middle East.

    So it is appropriate then to raise questions very respectfully and in a way that reflects our constitutional responsibility of the President's decisions at times. We are one Nation. We are united in providing for the security of our country, but sometimes we have different ideas. And it is okay to raise questions on the President's decisions.

    Consider the President's recent actions and the concerns of this body over the negotiations to return Bowe Bergdahl that involved the release of five prisoners from Guantanamo, in contravention of a law passed by this Congress and signed by the President. He provided no notice of that.

    We know that this President sent a secret letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran during a time of critical negotiations that many of us have concerns about and during a time when many of us have asked for additional sanctions on Iran, not fewer sanctions.

    We know this President has attempted to negotiate with the Castro regime to normalize relations in Cuba.

    We know that the President sent a message to Putin just before his last election, saying, If you just give me time and wait until after the election, I will have more flexibility. He delivered that message to the Russian President.

    So it is okay that those of us in this body have raised those questions.

    The President has the authority to do most of what I just said, although I object to his no notice in the Bowe Bergdahl case. But we also have the authority to provide oversight and to exert our role in this.

    So how do we do that? We do that in three or four areas that are very ripe right now for conversation, for debate, and in a way that attracts the attention and the interest of our constituents, of the American people that send us here to represent them.

    We saw today the President's request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force. I appreciate the President sending that request to this Congress. I believe we should have done that last September. I was one of a few Members of Congress who signed my name onto an Authorization for Use of Military Force that we introduced last Congress prior to the President sending his resolution to this body. I believe we had a constitutional responsibility to do that, as this body, to ask: Are we a nation at war? And if so, are we willing to incur the sacrifice necessary to win that war? I am encouraged that the President today, during his press conference, said that by working with the Congress and by negotiating on the language that we can make this resolution even stronger. And I think we will see that. I hope we will see that in the coming weeks and the coming months.

    The language in the Authorization for Use of Military Force that prohibits no enduring offensive ground troops I think causes much consternation for many in this body. Are we really going to pass a resolution that restricts the tools of our own warfare when it comes to providing for the national security of the United States? The President will have his opportunity to make his case. This body will have our opportunity to make that case as well.

    Limiting or sunsetting the authorization to 3 years I think is something that we should begin to talk about. It is okay for us to have to revisit a responsible Authorization for Use of Military Force in 3 years so that we don't find ourselves with a President years from now relying on an authorization that can be 10, 11, or 12 years old. We need to have that debate in this body and represent our view of how we respond to ISIS because the President's view has created much concern.

    We saw at the National Prayer Breakfast that he suggested that the foundation of our response to ISIS needed to start with our own humility, by looking at our own history.

    I appreciate the academic conversation the President would like to have on that. But that sentiment, in itself, compromises our own national security, in my opinion, because it suggests that we first must look inward before responding to what is a pending national security threat, a threat to our homeland and a threat to our national interests.

    We need to have a debate whether or not we believe that an air campaign is sufficient. For the President to suggest that no ground troops will be required, that somehow that is a way of providing for the safety of our men and women in uniform, ignores the very risk of those who will be engaging in a dangerous air campaign and will continue to do so every day. And what happens if we lose one of our pilots? What happens if one of our pilots is captured, like the Jordanian pilot that was captured and, as we all saw, the tragic end that he met? Are we, as a nation, prepared to respond and rescue? Are we going to put boots on the ground? Should we put boots on the ground? That is a debate we need to have.

    None of us are advocating for an extended war. None of us are advocating for putting men and women in harm's way. But if we are going to engage, as a nation, with our partners to defeat a threat to the United States, we need to have an honest debate about how we do that and not start the debate by restricting how we intend to do that.

    {time} 1915 We also have a role in the future of Guantanamo. I have introduced legislation, H.R. 654, which would prevent the President of the United States from handing over our naval base at Guantanamo to the Cuban regime without congressional approval. This is very different from the debate over the future of the prison and very different from the debate over the transfer of detainees.

    Mr. Speaker, this simply says that we, as the United States, have a naval station 90 miles off our shore, and when Raul Castro demands that we return that to the Cuban people and pay reparations to the Cuban Government as terms of negotiation, my legislation says, No, Mr. President, you may not do that without coming to this body to ask for authorization. Certainly, I would not lend my vote to that.

    [[Page H974]] I was pleased to hear testimony in the other body, in the Senate, when the administration said that is not a matter they would consider, but as we have seen in the President's negotiations in the past, it gives us reason to pause.

    My legislation would simply codify the restriction that says that the Guantanamo Naval Base may not be returned to the Cuban people without congressional approval.

    Finally, we do have a role in inviting a foreign leader to address this body, Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is fully appropriate as a coequal branch of this government to invite and to ask for Netanyahu to address us about his vision of security in the region, his vision of peace in the region--his vision of security--and also his vision of the current negotiations with Iran.

    No Member of this body should shy away from receiving an address from the Prime Minister of Israel. We should stand resolute--Republicans, Independents, and Democrats--and be here for that address and not insult the Prime Minister and the people of Israel by turning it into a political game of boycotting an address by the Prime Minister.

    We should be here showing our support for the security of Israel, for the people of Israel, and, yes, for the Prime Minister's leadership. This is appropriate. We can disagree with the administration without being disagreeable.

    As we engage in oversight, Mr. Speaker, it is important that we continue this dialogue, and we do, as the President very respectfully suggested, and I want to thank him again for the tone of his remarks today when he said he hopes the AUMF can be better by working with the Congress.

    I would ask for the same of the administration when our Speaker steps out and invites Prime Minister Netanyahu because it represents the interests of this body when it comes to Israel and to the current negotiation with Iran.

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be joined this evening to discuss this further by a fine colleague of mine in this body, Representative Rodney Davis from Illinois.

    Mr. RODNEY DAVIS of Illinois. Well, thank you to the gentleman from Florida for actually putting this Special Order together tonight and also for yielding me time.

    You brought up a great number of issues that I think are very important to many of us, regardless of whether or not you represent 800,000 constituents in Florida or--like me--800,000 constituents in central and southwestern Illinois.

    I will tell you, David, that the other night, I was cleaning out one of my son's pockets in his jacket because I was throwing it into the laundry, and I pulled out a copy of the Constitution that he got at school.

    I flipped through it, and I reread article I, article II, article III, and the Bill of Rights. You learn something new each time. What you don't forget is that our forefathers who created this great institution understood that it took equal powers. It took equal branches of government to produce the freedoms that we here in America sometimes take for granted.

    It is exactly what you said about let's work with each branch of government. We can disagree without being disagreeable. You address so many issues. I would like to actually talk back and forth on some of those.

    Let's start with the invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu. We have a tremendous disagreement on whether or not the United States should unilaterally enter into negotiations with the terrorist State of Iran.

    I worry. I worry what it means for America and what it means for our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, if Iran finally was given access to a functional nuclear weapon. What would they do with that? Whom would they provide that technology to? It is something in a geopolitical sense that we have to be concerned about in our position as Members of Congress.

    These are issues that we have to put a check and balance on the administration to ensure that we are working towards what is the common goal for our allies.

    I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu's being invited to this great institution to come here to address the United States Congress, to address 435 Members of this House and many others, to talk about how we are working together as allies, I don't think that is an insult.

    Frankly, Mr. Speaker, I say: What took so long? Why did it take the Speaker of the House to put the invitation out? Why did the administration continue to block this? These are the types of issues that we as an equal branch of government have to address in this body. That is why we are happy to talk about many of the other issues.

    You mentioned Guantanamo Bay. I am a proud cosponsor of your bill that is going to ensure that this administration cannot negotiate away the United States' ownership of Guantanamo Bay, regardless of whether or not the President is going to--which I think is a terrible policy-- regardless of whether or not the President is going to clear out Guantanamo Bay of the terrorists who are there because they want to hurt Americans.

    I think we need to ensure that there is a law of the land that does not allow this administration to negotiate away a very important base in Cuba that protects Americans.

    Mr. Speaker, these are the types of issues, foreign policy issues-- ISIS is one that I know we will be able to discuss tonight and others-- but I am happy to begin a discussion on whatever it is you think is most important when it comes to America's foreign policy and our ability to be that oversight branch, that equal branch to the executive branch.

    Mr. JOLLY. I thank my colleague. Let's, for a moment, stay on the topic of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

    One of the reasons we take to the floor is to make sure that the voices are heard from all over the political spectrum. As the media and some in this body have gained the attention of the media by suggesting that the Prime Minister shouldn't attend, it is important for those of us who believe he should to take time to discuss why that is.

    Most people know and understand--but some people don't--the significance of our partnership with Israel and what it means in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

    This is a nation that has committed to democracy, to peace, to freedom, to representation, and to security; and they are doing so in an incredibly volatile region. All that they have asked of the United States over the years is that we stand with them in their own courage to promote peace, security, and freedom of their own people.

    I would say, as I mentioned earlier, for those who have chosen not to attend, I certainly respect that decision, but I think it sends a message that is wrong to say not just to the people of Israel, but to the Prime Minister himself.

    Not only is there a political message trying to be delivered by those that don't attend, but there is also this notion that, somehow, those of us in this body better understand the internal politics in Israel better than the elected leaders.

    Why should we not trust that Prime Minister Netanyahu understands what is best for his nation? Why should we try to suggest that we know better than Prime Minister Netanyahu what is right for Israel and for the people of Israel? To suggest otherwise is demeaning both to the Prime Minister, as well as to the people of Israel.

    I look forward to the Prime Minister's address, and I think this body, as we make decisions both about Iran sanctions but also about our aid to the people of Israel, I think this body has an opportunity to learn from the Prime Minister and to understand the issue better as we begin to make decisions.

    I look forward to the Prime Minister's address to this body.

    Mr. RODNEY DAVIS of Illinois. Well, like my colleague, Mr. Jolly, I look forward to the Prime Minister's address, too. It is really beyond what I thought serving as a Member of Congress we would see here, and it is the sheer pettiness of the fact that the Speaker of the House invited the Prime Minister and many decided to say they are going to boycott this.

    Do you know what--boycott it. If that is your idea of your freedom of speech, go ahead. We will fill the seats. We will make sure that Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that America stands with him and his nation as our greatest allies in the Middle East.

    [[Page H975]] When that happens, he will come here, he will be received with a reception that is worthy of the Prime Minister of Israel, and I am just honored to be able to sit in this room and to hear why our bilateral relationship is of the utmost importance.

    Mr. Speaker, I wish we didn't have this pettiness here in this Congress because I think the American people are sick and tired of the infighting. I think they are wanting us to govern together.

    This is just one more example that goes out to the American people that tells them that people in Washington in this institution can't get along. I hate to say it, but they are wrong on many issues because we do get along, but on this one, it is so important that we show respect to our greatest ally.

    Mr. Speaker, I notice we have been joined by our colleague from California (Mr. Valadao), who I think wants to participate in this discussion on Prime Minister Netanyahu also.

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