President Trump may prefer “strict constructionists” when it comes to Supreme Court Justices, but when it comes to his own power, he is more than willing to ignore the constitutional text. As recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicate, he and Trump believe the President can authorize military action in Venezuela to topple Nicolás Maduro. They’re wrong according to Article I of the Constitution and the Framers’ intent. Unfortunately, there’s ample precedent by Trump and his predecessors for presidential power to initiate conflict.
According to the Constitution, decisions whether to go to war are entrusted to Congress. Once Congress declares war, then the President’s Commander-in-Chief power kicks in for decisions about strategy and tactics. Only in the circumstance of an attack on our country can the President make the decision to send troops into battle. But that changed with President Harry Truman in Korea, and Presidents since then have followed his example, as with Clinton in Bosnia, Obama in Libya, and Trump in Syria.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has failed to enforce the constitutional balance of power for military action, leaving public opinion as the primary check on the President.