Congressman Peter DeFazio brought his three-stop town hall tour to Eugene Thursday, Aug. 2, where he discussed his reintroduction of a bill limiting the presidential power to unilaterally go to war. He and his guest, legal scholar Garrett Epps, spoke to a packed house of about 200, several of whom had the opportunity to ask questions during the forum.
House Joint Resolution 66, the War Powers Amendments of 2019, isn’t DeFazio’s first attempt to rein in expanded presidential war powers. He introduced a bill with similar amendments in 2017, though it wasn’t ultimately passed. In both cases, the bills were spurred by concerns that President Donald Trump could conduct military operations without Congressional approval.
DeFazio rattled off a list of actions by the Trump administration that he’s disagreed with, adding “those things can be reversed with a new president. We cannot reverse one thing that he might do — and I fear he might — which is to start an absolutely catastrophic war in the Middle East.”
DeFazio then went on to say the Iraq war was “the biggest foreign policy mistake in the history of the United States” and that an “unprovoked attack against Iran would make that seem like maybe it wasn’t the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of the United States.”
Epps, a former University of Oregon law professor who is helping DeFazio with the resolution and is considered an expert on constitutional war powers, described why Trump thinks he can act unilaterally.
“The question becomes ‘why does President Trump believe he can do whatever he wants?’ Well, the reason is that his lawyers tell him that. And the reason they tell him that is they have pretty good reason to believe he can get away with virtually any assertion of military force that he wants.”
One question DeFazio faced from the crowd concerned his vote for H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act, earlier this month.
DeFazio responded that, while he has opposed the legislation in the past and didn’t like the $733 billion in military spending, he did like the democratic policies in the bill.
In his official statement to Congress, DeFazio points out the legislation grants military personnel a 3.1 percent pay raise, requires the Department of Defense to address the “existential threat of climate change,” prevents the Trump administration from diverting military funds to the proposed border wall and directs the Department of Defense to enhance election security.
Additionally, according to DeFazio’s statement, H.R. 2500 nullifies the military transgender ban, prohibits funding low-yield nuclear weapons and speeds the process of closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison.
While DeFazio made it clear his new resolution is in response to Trump and the threat of war with Iran, he also noted he has been critical of past presidents’ war actions, including those of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
DeFazio has long sought to bring the power to conduct military operations back to Congress. Additionally, in his statement to the House, he notes he has long supported auditing the Pentagon. A 1990 federal law mandates all government, but the Pentagon did not face an audit until 2018. That audit left many questions, which experts say will take years to clarify.
Discussion at the town hall wasn’t limited to war powers, however. DeFazio also fielded questions ranging from the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, ending the nuclear first-strike policy, veteran benefits and navigating treaties. The town hall lasted just over an hour, after which Defazio briefly met with a handful of constituents.