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Lawmakers Warn Biden He Can’t Unilaterally Send US Troops to Fight Russia

Congressional approval is needed before troops are engaged in conflict, lawmakers and antiwar groups wrote in a letter.

Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division look out at the airfield before deploying to Europe on February 14, 2021, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers and a coalition of anti-war groups reminded President Joe Biden on Tuesday that he is legally required to seek authorization from Congress before involving U.S. troops in any military conflict with Russia, which began moving forces of its own into eastern Ukraine earlier this week.

“Our nation’s laws are highly relevant to the ongoing situation in Ukraine,” 43 U.S. House members led by Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) wrote in a letter to the White House on Tuesday. “Were an attack by Russia to be imminent or underway, the War Powers Resolution would clearly require congressional authorization before the president may command U.S. Armed Forces to engage in hostilities.”

Signed by an ideologically diverse cohort of lawmakers spanning from right-wing Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) to progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the letter was delivered after Biden announced new economic sanctions against Russia and said he “authorized additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic allies.”

“Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part,” added Biden, who has approved the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to Eastern Europe in recent weeks. “We have no intention of fighting Russia.”

But no matter the president’s stated intentions, the lawmakers argued in their letter that he must “seek specific congressional authorization” in order to “leave any remaining U.S. advisers, trainers, special forces, or other U.S. military personnel in areas of these imminent or active hostilities.”

“You must also receive congressional approval before initiating any preemptive strike,” they wrote. “We strongly urge your administration to respect the separation of powers, U.S. law, and Congress’ constitutional war powers authority. Should your administration seek to introduce U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or decline to remove any U.S. military personnel currently deployed inside Ukraine from unauthorized hostilities or imminent hostilities, Congress stands ready to deliberate over the potentially monumental implications of such scenarios.”

“The American people, through their representatives in Congress, deserve to have a say before U.S. troops are placed in harm’s way or the U.S. becomes involved in yet another foreign conflict,” the lawmakers added.

The letter came as the situation on the ground in Ukraine continued to deteriorate and fears of an all-out war mounted. On Wednesday, Ukraine began preparations to impose a nationwide state of emergency and instructed its citizens to leave Russia, warning of a broader invasion.

With congressional Republicans and hawkish Democrats clamoring for Biden to respond more forcefully to Russia’s latest aggressive actions in Ukraine, DeFazio told Politico on Tuesday that the president should instead show restraint and consult with Congress.

“Americans are fed up with risking U.S. troops’ lives and spending taxpayer dollars on endless overseas wars,” said DeFazio. “I’m calling on President Biden to ignore the warmongers and receive authorization from Congress — as required by the Constitution and U.S. law — before even considering any involvement by the U.S. military in a conflict between Russia and Ukraine.”

Nearly a dozen advocacy groups — including the progressive anti-war organizations Just Foreign Policy, Peace Action, and Demand Progress — endorsed DeFazio’s message, hailing it as a “timely” and “level-headed” intervention amid loudening drumbeats of war.

“Even allowing U.S. advisers and special forces to remain in harm’s way in Ukraine without authorization creates the potential for direct conflict between the world’s leading nuclear powers,” Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, said in a statement Tuesday. “Regardless of one’s view on how the U.S. should respond to tensions over Ukraine, these are precisely the critical questions that the framers of our Constitution sought to entrust to the American people through their representatives in Congress.”

Cavan Kharrazian, a foreign policy campaigner for Demand Progress added that “by no means should the president put American troops — including embedded military advisors and special forces — into harm’s way in Ukraine without a debate and vote in Congress.”

“While Congress remains divided on many issues,” Kharrazian added, “we are glad to see such a diverse range of representatives defending our constitutional system of checks and balances when it comes to war.”

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