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January 16, 2020

“The Great Abdication” – King Condemns Congress Surrendering Power of the Purse, Ignoring Constitutional Responsibilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) emphasized Congress’s failure to assert its constitutional duties as delegated by the Framers of the Constitution. Terming the recent period of Congressional history as “the Great Abdication”, King condemned Congress’s decisions to cede its responsibilities in declaring war, managing trade, and allocating federal funds. His comments come as the Administration reportedly will seek to reprogram $7.2 billion in appropriated Congressional funding to fund wall construction along the Southern border, threatening Congressionally-approved military construction projects across the world. 

“I like to think about decisions by looking at: “how will this look ten years from now?” And I believe if—when commentators and historians are looking back on this period the name of the book will be: ‘The Great Abdication,’ because over the past 50 years Congress has essentially abdicated three of its most important powers,” said Senator King in the hearing. “One, the power to declare war. We haven’t declared war since 1942. Secondly, the power over trade which is expressly delegated to Congress in the Constitution. But now we’re about to delegate the power of the purse. I can’t understand any member of this committee of either party countenancing any president taking funds from a congressionally appropriated account to use for another purpose.

“We may as well just forget about the whole appropriations process. Why not let the president’s budget be the budget? Why have Congress intervene at all? And I’m not directing these comments at you except to the extent that you are going to have to carry out what I consider an illegal order,” Senator King continued. “I commend to you the case decided in December 2019, El Paso v. Trump, where the judge found in an incredibly well-researched and thorough opinion that the utilization of these funds for the purpose of the border wall which was not appropriated by Congress was illegal. I think you fellows are being instructed to carry out an illegal order. Now, I’m aware that the fifth circuit stayed that decision, but the legal reasoning is so powerful I find it very hard to believe that it’s going to be overturned ultimately. But the idea that this Congress is allowing the most fundamental power to be turned over to the executive in total contravention of the whole scheme of the Constitution to me is just unbelievable. That any—either party would allow that to happen. The Framers assumed that institutional jealousy and rivalry, and protection of the prerogative of each institution would balance one another. That’s the whole theory of checks and balances. And yet, here we are again, as Senator Kaine pointed out, looking toward the executive re-appropriating one-third of the military construction funds for a purpose that Congress has not approved.”

In previous Senate hearings, Senator King has questioned the legality of reprograming military funds for other purposes without congressional approval. In September, Senator King argued that moving congressionally-appropriated military construction funds to build a wall on the southern border of the U.S. is an violation of the separation of powers. Previously, in March, he questioned then-Acting Defense Secretary and Under Secretary of Defense to identify which authorized military construction projects are subject to being cancelled or reduced in order to reallocate $3.6 billion to construction of the President’s border wall.

Senator King has consistently expressed concern about the erosion of Congress’s war powers, and last week cosponsored a war powers resolution that would require a debate and vote in Congress before the United States initiates a war with Iran. War powers resolutions are privileged, meaning that the Senate will be forced to vote on the legislation. The Kaine resolution underscores that Congress has the sole power to declare war, as laid out in the Constitution. The Kaine resolution requires that any major hostilities initiated by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force; it does not prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent Iranian attacks. If the resolution becomes law, it would require a public debate and vote in Congress as intended by the Framers of the Constitution to determine whether United States forces should be engaged in these hostilities.

In January 2014, Senator King joined Senators Tim Kaine and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to introduce the War Powers Consultation Act of 2014, legislation that would strengthen the consultative process between Congress and the President on whether and when to engage in military action.

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