Will Congress Be Willing to Curb Obama's Powers?

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Changing the Authorization for Use of Military Force against terrorists, as President Barack Obama has proposed (see column), will face considerably more resistance in Congress than did the law itself in 2001.

Other than the declaration of war after Pearl Harbor, few major pieces of legislation have rushed through Congress as quickly.

Only days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress passed the measure that gave the president sweeping authority to retaliate. In the two houses, 518 members voted for it and only one -- Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat -- voted against.

The president was authorized to use any force necessary against the perpetrators of the attack or any nation or organization that "aided" or "harbored" these enemies.

Some critics think presidents have gone beyond even the broad powers it grants. The Supreme Court rejected the George W. Bush administration's contention that the law sanctioned the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Others question the legitimacy of the drone attacks in Pakistan ordered by Obama's administration under the use of military force powers.

Bad guys have been killed -- including the supposed mastermind behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 -- but some of the direct links to al-Qaeda are more tenuous.

There are efforts in Congress to repeal the open-ended law, and even some defense hawks, such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, suggest it needs to be altered. Consensus on any changes, much less repeal, will be elusive.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net