U.S. Government (02:32)
The Framers of the Constitution gave Congress the exclusive right to declare war, but also made the president the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army. The president has more power to commit troops today than they imagined.
Hypothetical Covert Action (03:47)
Benno Schmidt describes a military action that would trigger the War Powers Act—rebels have asked the United States for help in overthrowing the government of Sierra Madre.
Legality of Action (02:31)
To act, the president must reach a finding based on advice from advisors within the Executive Branch, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The U.S. Attorney General must rule the action legal.
Secrecy Dilemma (05:02)
President Gerald Ford and Brent Scowcroft argue that covert action is often the easiest way to achieve foreign policy objectives, but it must be kept secret to be effective. Sen. Orrin Hatch and former U.S. Representative John Brademas debate presidential leeway.
Corrosive Effect (03:48)
New York Times columnist Tom Wicker and Sen. Chris Dodd argue the type of covert action is inconsistent with an open, democratic society. Dodd alludes to the Bay of Pigs and other botched operations. President Ford cops to those failures but argues the U.S. must take risks in the interest of national security.
Congressional Oversight (01:41)
Members of Congress have national security clearance that allows them to go through files and transcripts compiled by the Select Committee on Intelligence. Members who are strongly opposed to a covert operation can oppose it by cutting off funding or by swaying public opinion.
War Powers Act (01:06)
The act allows the president to commit troops abroad, but those troops must be withdrawn if Congress does not act within 60 days. The president has some leeway to act as commander-in-chief of the military.
Can Presidents Send Troops? (06:35)
The president decides to commit 500 troops to El Dorado. President Ford says the president could do this legally, but Congress could pull the mission’s funding. Scowcroft, Dodd and former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie consider whether Congress must be involved in the commitment of troops.
Can Congress Restrict the President? (12:20)
President Ford, Muskie, Mikulski and others debate whether the 60-day deadline is a firm, legal requirement or if the president has greater leeway to act.
Can 60-day Deadline Be Enforced? (03:54)
President Ford, Muskie, Mikulski and others debate whether the 60-day deadline outlined in the War Powers Acts is a firm, legal requirement or if the president, as commander-in-chief, has greater leeway to act.
Should Courts Get Involved? (05:26)
Schmidt poses a scenario in which a soldier sued, challenging the president’s authority to send him to El Dorado. Experts question whether the courts should become involved in the conflict between the president and Congress.
Hypothetical Court Order (03:27)
The courts order the president to withdraw troops. Former presidential advisor Philip Buchen would advise the president to ignore the order, characterizing it as an arrogation of power by the courts. Ford says he would abide by the decision, though he thinks it is wrong.
Suing the President (02:23)
Friendly and Stewart discuss the notion of Congress suing the president. The Beirut barracks bombings of 1983 took place the day the debate depicted in this episode was recorded, and the U.S. invaded Grenada two days later.
Credits: War Powers and Covert Action (01:44)
Credits: War Powers and Covert Action
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