AP, CNN, Wash. Post reported GOP claim that Webb proposal is unconstitutional without noting Webb response

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

Reporting on Sen. Jim Webb's proposal to "specify minimum periods between deployment of units and members of the Armed Forces" deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, several media outlets noted Sen. John McCain's criticism that the amendment is "unconstitutional" without including comments from Webb or any other Democrat defending the constitutionality of the proposal.

In a September 19 article, the Associated Press' Anne Flaherty reported that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "blasted" an amendment by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) that sought to "specify minimum periods between deployment of units and members of the Armed Forces" deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article quoted McCain calling the amendment "unconstitutional" and saying that Congress "has the right to declare war and to fund armies and navies. It says nothing about setting tours of duties." Similarly, in a September 19 report, CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash noted that Webb "knows he's up against staunch opposition from the Pentagon and Republican senators like John McCain, who say it's unconstitutional to limit the president's ability to deploy troops," while a September 20 Washington Post article uncritically reported that Republicans "called [the amendment] unconstitutional, difficult to enforce and certain to be vetoed." But neither the AP nor Bash included comments from Webb or any other Democrat defending the constitutionality of the proposal.

During the September 19 edition of CNN's American Morning, Webb was asked to respond to McCain's assertion that the "Constitution of the United States gives no authority for the Congress to set lengths of tour or lengths of duty in the military," and by doing so, he added, Congress is engaging in "micromanagement." Webb replied: "Senator McCain, who I've known for 30 years, needs to read the Constitution. There's a provision in Article I, Section 8, which clearly gives the Congress the authority to make rules with respect to the governance of the ground and naval forces. There's precedent for this." Article I, Section 8 states: "The Congress shall have power ... [t]o make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." CNN.com reported in a September 19 article: "Some GOP senators, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, said Webb's proposal amounted to an unconstitutional legislative infringement on Bush's powers as commander-in-chief." The article added that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) "flatly rejected" the argument, saying: "We have a responsibility, by virtue of the Constitution, to work with the military, to set policy for the military," adding, "Anyone that suggests that the Webb amendment is unconstitutional either is not reading the law, or no one's explained it to them very well."

From the September 19 edition of CNN's American Morning:

KIRAN CHETRY (co-anchor): There have been questions though about whether or not that -- in theory it sounds good, but whether it would actually work tactically. And yesterday in Ohio, Senator John McCain, himself a war veteran, had this to say about the amendment. Let's listen.

McCAIN [video clip]: The Constitution of the United States gives no authority for the Congress of the United States to set lengths of tour or lengths of duty in the military, and I hope we will steadfastly reject this kind of micromanagement, which would create chaos.

CHETRY: That's what he said. Are you micromanaging or overstepping your bounds as a senator?

WEBB: First of all, Senator McCain, who I've known for 30 years, needs to read the Constitution. There's a provision in Article I, Section 8, which clearly gives the Congress the authority to make rules with respect to the governance of the ground and naval forces. There's precedent for this.

I used to run the mobilization programs in the Pentagon when I was assistant secretary of defense. And there's --

CHETRY: Why did it fail earlier this summer then if it's not contentious?

WEBB: Well, because the Iraq war is contentious. And it was roughly along party lines, although we did get seven Republicans for it. And I think that from now -- from then until now, hopefully, we've had enough people begin to understand more clearly how difficult this is for the men and women who are making these repeated deployments.

From a September 19 AP article:

Reid said the bill will be considered as an amendment to a defense policy bill on the floor, along with a proposal by Feingold that would cut off money for combat operations next year and one by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., limiting combat tours.

McCain blasted Webb's amendment as "unconstitutional."

"The Congress of the United States has the right to declare war and to fund armies and navies. It says nothing about setting tours of duties," he said.

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the September 19 edition of CNN Newsroom:

BASH: Webb, a former Republican, says troop rest is even more critical since the president admitted the U.S. will be in Iraq for some time.

WEBB: They were denying it and denying it for years, and now they openly are saying this is going to be like Korea. So, I think they need to get their story straight.

BASH: Webb appears to have 57 of the 60 votes he needs and says he has a good chance at finding three more Republicans to pass his legislation.

But the senator says he also knows he's up against staunch opposition from the Pentagon and Republican senators like John McCain, who say it's unconstitutional to limit the president's ability to deploy troops.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.

From the September 20 Washington Post article:

The first time Webb offered his amendment, on July 11, it attracted more support than either side anticipated. Reid decided to revive the proposal when Congress resumed the Iraq debate this month. The Democrats' list of GOP targets included Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), George V. Voinovich (Ohio) and Elizabeth Dole (N.C.).

But as Republican interest grew in recent days, party leaders and Pentagon brass fanned out across the Capitol in a campaign to defeat the plan. They called it unconstitutional, difficult to enforce and certain to be vetoed.

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