Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and 44 other House Democrats sued President Bush Tuesday, seeking an injunction to prevent him from attacking Iraq without first obtaining permission from Congress.
"Throughout the Cold War era too many presidents have taken this nation into presidential wars without the full, informed consent of Congress and the American people," said Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif., leader of those suing Bush."My colleagues and I are determined not to let history repeat itself in this instance, because millions of lives are at stake," he said. They are not contesting "defensive" actions in the Middle East, only plans for attacks.
The 45 congressmen - all liberal Democrats - filed their suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia a day after Iraq ordered an extra 250,000 troops into Kuwait to counter Bush's order two weeks ago sending 200,000 more U.S. troops into the area.
The suit says the Constitution gives only Congress the right to declare war but that Bush has made it clear he is considering use of force to drive Iraq from Kuwait without necessarily asking permission of Congress first.
Dellums told reporters gathered outside the Washington, D.C., courthouse, "We will not ask the court to decide whether any offensive military or covert action in the Middle East is right or wrong. That momentous question can only be decided by full, open responsible debate."
Owens earlier told the Deseret News, "Vietnam disposed of the notion that the president should be trusted solely for foreign policy on military matters. We will not be bludgeoned into allowing Bush to have total leeway on whether to wage war."
Owens said he joined the suit "because I feel so strongly that we must not start a war without the people deciding to do that through the people's representatives in Congress, as required by the Constitution."
Representing the 45 congressmen - and paying all costs of the suit - is the Center for Constitutional Rights and University of Pittsburgh Law School professor Jules Lobel. The center also filed suit last week for Army reservist Michael R. Ange, seeking to prevent his deployment to Saudi Arabia because no declaration of war has been issued.
The center issued a statement Tuesday saying, "What is especially egregious here is the spectacle of the president and the secretary of state traipsing around the globe, cajoling foreign leaders into authorizing the use of force, while refusing to seek such approval from representatives of the American people."
It hopes the court will schedule a quick hearing on the suit by the 45 congressmen. A Dec. 10 hearing by Judge Royce Lamberth has been scheduled on the suit by the Army reservist.
Several other congressmen who joined the suit also blasted Bush for possibly sidestepping Congress in considering war.
Rep. Les AuCoin, D-Ore., said, "The time to debate is now, before the coffins start coming home. I say the president should not be permitted to start a war until the public tells him he can through the representatives."
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said, "Statements by President Bush and Secretary of State Baker indicate that they are not only preparing to take offensive military action against Iraq but that they do not feel bound by the Constitution to seek a declaration of War from Congress.
"Until all reasonable diplomatic and political options are exhausted, we should not go to war."
Rep. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said, "Some argue that insisting on congressional approval makes it more difficult for our nation to enter a war. In my mind, that is exactly why the Constitution requires it."
Rep. Tom Foglietta, D-Pa., said, "We cannot allow a rerun of the anger and division this nation went through during the Vietnam War. In our democracy, no single person should decide the fate of thousands of American soldiers."