Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio joins us to discuss why he thinks President Obama may have committed an "impeachable offense" by committing U.S. military forces to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya without congressional approval. "This president has assumed power that no president, not even President Bush, has assumed,” Kucinich says. “I think that we need to focus on this, not as a matter of whether we like President Obama or not, not as a matter of whether we are Democrats or not, but whether or not we understand the basic constitutional principles of the separation of power." [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today’s show on Libya. The White House is refusing to confirm on a report that President Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. According to the Reuters news agency, Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding," within the last two or three weeks.
Earlier this week, the New York Times revealed CIA operatives are already on the ground in Libya as part of a covert Western force to aid the U.S.-led bombing campaign.
In Washington, the President’s war plans are continuing to come under criticism by some members of Congress. On Thursday, Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich gave a 40-minute address on the floor of the House. He accused President Obama of violating the War Powers Resolution by attacking Libya without congressional approval. Congressman Kucinich has also suggested the President’s actions are an impeachable offense.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Dennis Kucinich joins us now in Washington, D.C., to talk about Libya as well as the latest news from his home state of Ohio, where, well, last night Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich signed a bill that strips collective bargaining rights for state employees and bars them from striking.
Congressmember Dennis Kucinich, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s start with Libya. Lay out your thesis that you put forward on the floor of the House yesterday.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Simply put, the President has no constitutional authority to do what he’s done. He has changed the Constitution, in effect, by saying that he has an executive privilege to wage war. He’s ignored Article I, Section 8. He’s ignored the War Powers Act. He’s even exceeded the U.N. mandate. And so, this administration has taken this country on a path that is profoundly anti-democratic, and it needs to be challenged.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Congressman, when you say an "impeachable offense," those are pretty strong words.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, actually, what I’ve said is that he’s exceeded his authority as executive, and I raised a question as to whether or not when someone does that, if that in fact is an impeachable offense. Look, there’s not going to be an impeachment, but someone has to say that what the President is doing is fundamentally wrong, if we have any understanding of the way this country was founded. The founders did not want to create, in the executive, another British king who could wage war at his whim and caprice.
This president has assumed power that no president, not even President Bush, has assumed. And I think that we need to focus on this, not as a matter of whether we like President Obama or not, not as a matter of whether we are Democrats or not, but whether or not we understand the basic constitutional principles of the separation of power, of the separation of the war power, and that the president’s role as commander-in-chief has nothing to do with an ability to make war. He just simply doesn’t have that power.
AMY GOODMAN: What about President Obama’s argument, when he made his case to the nation, that he was trying to prevent a massacre and that it would have been wrong not to take action with the world community?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, we don’t know what exactly was going on in Libya, because the fact is that when a U.N. commission of inquiry went in, they had to quickly leave, because the bombing had started. The fact that the leader of that country made threats to do something, you know, this wasn’t a basis for the United States to assume that we had the right to go in and start to provide the rebels with air cover. I mean, this thing has leapfrogged from a, quote, "humanitarian intervention," which inevitably is taking the side of the rebels, so we’re helping to fulminate a civil war, into a full-scale military operation, which, you know, it seems was the real intention all along.
So, we really have some serious questions to ask of this administration. And Congress, if Congress is to mean anything at all with respect to our historic responsibilities as the first among equals in our Constitution, we have the obligation to call this administration to an accounting, and not just be supplicants to the power of a president who is now starting to act like something that’s beyond what the Constitution envisioned.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congressman, but the reality is, in terms of the recent U.S. history especially, there have been any number of U.S. interventions in countries where they stopped short of a full-fledged war, but — and the president, for one reason or another, didn’t feel it was necessary, before sending troops into the field, to request the vote of Congress. Your sense of how the War Powers Act has evolved in the United States in recent years?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, there’s a couple issues here. First of all, what other presidents have done, you know, frankly, that’s neither here nor there. If there’s an argument that, well, Congress didn’t assert its authority before, and so what’s happened is that we — as I think Glenn Greenwald argued this, as well, in a recent column — it doesn’t follow that the consistent acquiescence to an executive usurpation of congressional power nullifies the founding document. It doesn’t. At some point you have to say, "Wait a minute here." And so, that’s what I’m doing.
Now, to look at the Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8 firmly defined the war power. You read the sense of Washington and Jefferson, you read The Federalist Papers, Number 69, what Hamilton wrote about it, it makes it clear. That’s where the war powers is. Now, the War Powers Act was an attempt to define better the relationship between Congress and the presidency by, you know, carving out circumstances under which the president can take action before going to Congress and providing for notification later on.
The President has not met the requirements of the War Powers Act with respect to that, in terms of the definition of there being an attack on the United States, or the threat of one. So, this is a circumstance where this administration is redefining the presidency in the same way that John Yoo, the attorney for President Bush, redefined it. We’ve got a presidency here that is becoming to be — is beginning to be indistinguishable from that of the Bush White House with respect with its use of war power, with respect to its interpretation of executive power, with respect to the role of the president in defining all national security issues without consulting with Congress at all.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think President Obama should do in Libya, and then Yemen, for example? I mean, we have to look at all of these countries — in Tunisia, in Egypt, Yemen — where the U.S. has supported these dictators, these despots, for decades. But what should the U.S. do in Libya? And then, what about Yemen, where the U.S. continues to support Saleh?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, there’s two things here, Amy. One is what we should have done, and number two is where we are now. We have no right to intervene in the internal affairs of any country. It is awful any time people are suffering under a bad leader, and it’s awful when there’s violence. You know, you can never condone that. On the other hand, as Noam Chomsky famously pointed out, humanitarian war is an oxymoron. Inevitably, it expands to engulf citizens. We’re involved in a civil — in what is a breeding civil war here that inevitably is going to make of Libya a graveyard. We need to pull back. We need to get out. Now, having disturbed things like this, it means that there would be profound consequences for the people that — on whose side we’ve intervened, and there would be profound consequences for the CIA that’s been on the ground there. But the fact of the matter is, we had no right going in there.
And let’s go beyond Libya. If we start intervening for humanitarian purposes throughout the region, we’re looking at feeding this impulse of war. We could be on the verge of a war that is so broad that we become engulfed in it. And that’s really, I think, what we’re headed for, because the Obama administration is not showing the kind of restraint that the people have a right to expect in a president of the United States and is not showing the willingness to recognize the constitutional role of the Congress. And if you do not have Congress as a coequal branch of government, then you have an executive who’s quite free to pursue adventures in his name and not in the name of the country.