Congressional Republicans have spent so long fighting tooth-and-nail against anything President Obama proposes that they forgot how to function as a branch of government. Worse, the age of Republican know-nothing foreign policy has left that branch utterly incapable of fulfilling its constitutional duties anymore.
Exhibit A is the ‘Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism’ Act, which Congress passed this week in their first-ever congressional override of a presidential veto by Barack Obama.
That seems to have been the singular selling-point for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. Having ignored multiple warnings from the Obama administration that the legislation would open a Pandora’s box of litigation against the United States, now they are both trying to blame Obama for not saying it forcefully enough.
Senate Republicans focused on the “detachment” of the White House from the “legislative process,” which is something they have actually used only a handful of times in six years of controlling the Senate.
“That was a good example, it seems to me, of a failure to communicate early about the potential consequences of a piece of legislation,” McConnell told reporters before Congress got out of town until after the elections. “By the time everybody seemed to focus on some potential consequences of it, members had already basically taken a position.”
“I think it was just a ball dropped,” McConnell added. “I wish the president — I hate to blame everything on him, and I don’t — but it would have been helpful had he, uh, we had a discussion about this much earlier than last week.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said lawmakers’ recent comments are a “deeply embarrassing” display of “rapid-onset buyer’s remorse.”
“The suggestion on the part of some members of the Senate was that they didn’t know what they were voting on, that they didn’t understand the negative consequences of the bill,” he said Thursday. “That’s a hard suggestion to take seriously.”
Ryan, who skipped the vote to override Obama’s veto on Wednesday, is also warning that the bill needs to be fixed in the lame duck session. “I’d like to think that there’s a way we could fix [it] so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas, while still protecting the rights of the 9/11 victims,” he said.
The broad consensus is that Congress doesn’t know what it’s doing here, with dangerous implications for diplomatic and military personnel.
The Obama administration warns that the bill opens the door for lawsuits against the U.S. in foreign courts, such as by families of those killed by U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. General Electric, Dow Chemical and other major corporations also opposed the bill over concerns of retaliation.
The bill could hurt U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, a traditional ally. Riyadh denies any involvement in 9/11, but has warned it may sell up to $750 billion in bonds and other dollar-denominated assets so they cannot be frozen by U.S. courts. If Saudi Arabia goes through with the sale, the financial market will feel the impact.
Based on a thoroughly-debunked conspiracy theory that connects the Saudi Arabian government to the 9/11 hijackers, JASTA would allow 9/11 victims to sue the monarchy in American courts, violating the principle of sovereign immunity — and setting a precedent for drone strike victims, among others, to sue the United States.
Ever since Republicans began their era of dominance under Newt Gingrich, controlling both houses of Congress for 18 of the last 22 years, the legislative branch has shown diminishing interest in its foreign policy responsibilities while American voters have shown increasing impatience with the responsibilities of the post-World War II system in the 21st Century.
These trendlines have been much worse during the Obama years. When the GOP does focus on America’s image abroad, it is to push their agenda of obstruction: intervening in Obama’s efforts to close Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo, holding up important appointments, cutting State Department funding, then politicizing the Benghazi attacks.
Displaying lack of interest as well as lack of spine, altogether too many Democrats joined in the near-unanimous override. Tellingly, the only nay vote in the Senate was outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Given this much dysfunction, it’s understandable that Barack Obama would circumvent Congress wherever necessary, such as in prosecuting the war on the Islamic State without so much as a congressional hearing. Ryan and McConnell have declined to consider any new war powers legislation until they have a president of their own party. But it is also terrifying to realize just how wide this gulf of responsibility has gotten in such abdication, and how fundamentally unserious this do-nothing Congress has gotten to be.
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