Durbin Nudges White House on Drones

Congress needs to review the unilateral authority of presidents to use military force.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois says Congress needs to review the unilateral authority of presidents to use military force, and wants the White House to provide more information on its policy and legal rationale for drone strikes.

At a Washington breakfast sponsored the Wall Street Journal, the Democratic whip, who is a close ally of President Barack Obama, said it was important for Congress to ask whether it is "meeting our constitutional responsibilities."

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress authorized the White House to use force to combat terrorism, with few checks.

The administration's drone program, including the killing overseas of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism, has recently generated scrutiny, although Democrats have been largely quiescent on the issue.

Durbin's comments, while they stopped short of criticism of the Obama administration, may provide an opening for other Democrats. Last week, John Podesta, the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and the head of the Obama transition team after the 2008 election, published an op-ed in the Washington Post assailing the administration for sidestepping the law and for withholding from Congress the legal rationale for the drone program.

At the breakfast, Durbin also said he would propose a Social Security commission that would recommend changes to assure the solvency of the retirement program for 75 years. The panel probably wouldn't submit proposals until 2015. The recommendations would then be subject to an automatic up-or-down vote.

He also said there was "less than a 50 percent" chance of that Democrats and Republicans will reach a broad accord on budgetary and fiscal challenges this year.

He was optimistic, however, that a comprehensive immigration measure would be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee next month and passed by Congress this year.

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    Albert R Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

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