From NBC’s Ali Weinberg
President Harry Truman’s decision in 1950 to order U.S. air and naval forces into Korea has been cited as a precedent for a president initiating overseas military action without first seeking Congressional authorization.
But Congress didn’t exactly go along.
Some members did, in fact, accuse Truman of usurping the powers of the legislative branch, in very similar ways that President Obama’s decision to authorize air strikes against Libya has been met with Congressional criticism.
Truman’s administration justified the strike by saying the United Nations Security Council had recommended all members of the U.N. to “furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repeal the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area.”
Truman cited the resolution in a statement to the public explaining his decision on June 27, 1950:
In Korea the Government forces, which were armed to prevent border raids and to preserve internal security, were attacked by invading forces from North Korea. The Security Council of the United Nations called upon the invading troops to cease hostilities and to withdraw to the Thirty-eighth Parallel. This they have not done, but on the contrary have pressed the attack. The Security Council called upon all members of the United Nations to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution.
In these circumstances I have ordered United States air and sea forces to give the Korean Government troops cover and support.
While Congress overall seemed to support the merits of the announcement (and, in fact, according to a New York Times article from June 27, 1950, many cheered it in the House of Representatives), some members said it was an example of overreach by the executive branch.
From the same Times article:
The most outspoken objection to the Chief Executive’s course was expressed by Representative Vito Marcantonio, American Labor party, of New York, who charged that Mr. Truman had usurped the powers of Congress by declaring war against North Korea.
He said the President’s action was “a disastrous course” – one that might bring “disastrous consequences on the people of the United States unless checked by the people themselves.”
“For all purposes, he declared, “we are at war with the Northern Government of Korea and we might as well face it.”
In fact, other objections pertained to the very role of the United Nations Security Council (which had been formed just five years before in 1945) in declaring military actions, and whether it alone should serve as sufficient authorization for the U.S. to become involved in fighting.
Senator Arthur V. Watkins, Republican of Utah, asked Mr. Lucas [who read the statement in the Senate] whether the President should not have consulted with Congress before ordering the Navy and the Air Force to support the South Koreans.
“It is a serious emergency, and I am taking that into consideration,” he told Mr. Lucas. “But does the Senator consider the action taken justified by the fact that we have ratified the United Nations pact and have become a member of it; and if a request is made by the United Nations through the Security Council, to send support, whether the President would be justified by that alone, in sending support which might result in a war?”