The House voted Tuesday to formally condemn President Obama for releasing five Taliban warriors earlier this year in an exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, with nearly two dozen Democrats joining Republicans in declaring the president broke the law by not giving Congress a heads-up.
Under two defense policy laws, Mr. Obama is required to give 30 days’ notice before releasing suspected terrorist detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, but he gave no notice before making the swap that sent the Taliban warriors to Qatar.
While expressing “relief” that Sgt. Bergdahl was returned to the U.S., the House resolution said releasing the Taliban creates a security risk, and rebuked Mr. Obama for breaking the law to do it.
“It was a clear-cut decision not to follow the law,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican, who said the move “undercuts the trust” Congress has that the military and intelligence community will carry out the laws as they are written.
The 249-163 vote is the latest censure for Mr. Obama, who has been rebuked for overreaching executive boundaries on a number of issues, and not only by the GOP-led House, but also by a unanimous Supreme Court and the independent Government Accountability Office.
Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he thinks Mr. Obama should have informed Congress ahead of the decision. But he said the move to formally censure the president went too far.
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Mr. Smith said presidents of all parties assert extensive legal authority to act under their commander-in-chief powers, including former President George W. Bush.
“This president has only done what every other president before him did,” he said. “This resolution is unprecedented and I think once again shows this body has become more partisan than principled.”
Democrats also found themselves defending Mr. Obama’s use of signing statements — a practice they had objected to under President George W. Bush.
In the Bergdahl case, Mr. Obama had previously issued a statement questioning the legality of the defense policy law that required 30 days’ notice for releasing prisoners.
Democrats said that was a signal to Congress that Mr. Obama might not follow the law as written.
Republicans said it should have been easy for Mr. Obama to give notice. Nearly 100 officials within the administration were brought in on discussions about the transfer, but no member of Congress was given a heads-up until the day of the swap.
“They knew this would not be popular with the American people,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis, Florida Republican.