WASHINGTON -- Forty-five House Democrats filed a lawsuit yesterday in U.S. District Court in an attempt to stop President Bush from unilaterally committing U.S. troops to a war with Iraq.
The group, led by California Representative Ronald V. Dellums and including Maryland Representative Kweisi Mfume, sought an injunction to bar the president from using force to oust Iraq from Kuwait without authorization from Congress. The filing of the suit was the latest skirmish between the legislative and executive branches over who has the authority to commit troops to combat.
"There are millions of American people in this country who have serious questions about going to war," Mr. Dellums said at a news conference on the courthouse steps. Congress, he said, "ought to have that right" to debate the issue.
"One thing that a declaration of war does give us is the president's rationale," he added. "The president should have to deal with the Congress of the United States, make his case to the American people, as to why he wants to pull four or five hundred thousand troops" into war.
Representative Don Edwards, D-Calif., accused Mr. Bush of acting alone, without consulting the American people -- adding that the president has consulted leaders all around the world but refuses to consult leaders at home.
"The president has an obligation to seek congressional approval [to go to war]," Mr. Edwards said. The suit, in which Mr. Bush is the defendant, cites Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution, which gives war-making powers to Congress.
The suit argues that the commander in chief has the power to command military forces in warfare only after a war has been declared.
"The court can decide the question of whether there has been sufficient congressional consent for the military activities in question," said attorney Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the lawmakers.
The administration's position has been that, in his capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces, as mandated by the Constitution, the president has the power to send troops into combat. The United States' military campaigns in Korea and Vietnam were carried out without declarations of war.
[At the Pentagon, spokesman Pete Williams said that the United States was not now at war and that the president, therefore, did not need a declaration of war from Congress, according to Cox News Service.
[At the Justice Department, Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh told reporters that the lawmakers' lawsuit "involves very complicated questions involving standing to sue, the executive power, and we will respond completely," the Associated Press reported.
["We will indicate quite clearly what we think the president's responsibilities are and what limits, if any, exist," Mr. Thornburgh said, suggesting that the administration would file a hard-line response to the suit.]
A White House spokesman said there had been no direct response to the suit from Mr. Bush, who was in Paris trying to enlist the support of European leaders for a United Nations resolution endorsing the use of force against Iraq.
But at a briefing in Paris, the lawsuit was described as "unnecessary" by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. "From a practical standpoint, we intend to consult fully" with members of Congress, he said.
The lawmakers are asking Judge Harold Greene to hold a hearing on the suit within 10 days. Judge Greene, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, was the judge in the Iran-contra trial of John M. Poindexter, the national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan.