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Political Influence and the Commander in Chief: Congress, the President, and War Powers

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Doctoral thesis

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This project examines war powers politics between the president and Congress. Congress is supposed to declare or authorize wars the president is supposed to direct the overall war effort and protect the nation from attack. Yet, armed attacks against the United States are historically rare, as are declarations of war and congressional authorizations for the use of force. What is not rare, however, is the actual use of military force. American troops have been deployed into combat situations hundreds of times in the nations history. Thus emerges a basic puzzle given the constitutional framework and institutional incentives of the executive and legislative branches, does war powers control in fact reside with Congress More directly, does Congress have any meaningful war powers The author frames the congressional-presidential relationship in principal-agent terms, and suggests that the presidents unilateral authority and ability to control the war powers agenda largely relegates Congress to a position of indirect influence. The author tests for evidence of congressional influence in two areas the initial decision to employ military force and the factors affecting the duration of military operations. He then examines the political and situational factors that influence Congress to confront the president through war-related hearings. While evidence does not point to a direct congressional role in the war powers arena, results indicate that a long-term, more indirect form of congressional influence may exist in such areas as economic aid, permanent troop deployments, and potential presidential consultation with congressional leaders. Framed against the background of the 2006 midterm elections, this study suggests that scholars and other observers may do well to focus less on direct constraint, and instead turn their attention to the broader ways in which Congress responds and influences the president.

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  • Government and Political Science

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