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REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you.
It was an interesting vote. We had 60 percent of the Democrats, 60 percent of the Republicans, and zero percent of the top leadership of either party voting with us.
MADDOW: Were you surprised by the partisan equality on this one?
Were you surprised this was the opposite of a party line vote?
SHERMAN: Not really. It--it"s a matter of not what should our foreign policy be. There"s the whole range of views from doing nothing to doing everything the president"s doing. But rather, it"s a matter of democracy and the rule of law here in the United States.
And the War Powers Act is the law. And it ought to be followed. This is not a vote against being involved in Libya. This is a vote against being involved in Libya in violation of the War Powers Act.
MADDOW: If the Senate approved this same language that was in your amendment and this became law, which is a lot of ifs, I understand. It"s a tall order in terms of the way things work in Washington right now. But as you understand it, would this language force the president"s hand and make the U.S. stop participating in the Libya operation?
SHERMAN: Well, long before this becomes law, I think the president would come to Congress and ask for authorization to conduct activities in Libya. And I think that we would give him that authorization, but it would be subject to some conditions, subject to some limits.
Right now, you know, there"s a group of lawyers in the State Department that no matter who the president is, they take the position that any president by himself or herself, can deploy American forces, unlimited power for unlimited duration, for whatever worthy purpose they want to deploy them.
And it"s now time to say, hey, wait a minute. When Thomas Jefferson deployed American forces to the shores of Tripoli, literally to the same country where we"re acting now, he got congressional authorization in 1802. If it"s good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it ought to be good enough for any president.
MADDOW: I interviewed the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a few weeks ago, and I raised this issue of the War Powers Act. I asked him if he believes that it"s outdated. If it doesn"t fit our current national security needs.
He said the War Powers Act needs revision. That it is unclear.
What"s your reaction of that?
SHERMAN: I think it"s clear. The only thing that"s not clear is whether the president will follow it. And the way to make sure that it"s followed is for Congress to put on every relevant spending bill, whether you agree with the constitutionality of the War Powers Act or not, the money we"re giving you in this bill cannot be spent in violation of that act.
And it"s important that we put it on this bill. There"s also a second appropriations bill that we"ve got to put the same amendment on. That"s coming up in a couple of weeks.
And, of course, what happens in the Senate is hard to judge.
MADDOW: Sorry for interrupting there. Have you heard anything from the White House or from anyone in the executive branch about this amendment? After all, I mean, this would, as you say potentially have the effect of defunding the war in Libya, or at least forcing the president"s hand on getting an authorization.
Have you heard anything from them?
No, I haven"t. And it"s not my purpose to defund the war in Libya so much as it is to get Congress to play its role. We shouldn"t have an aggrandizing executive or a derelict Congress. We"re supposed to be playing a role.
And it"s comfortable for a while to just sit on the sidelines and let the president make the decisions, especially on an issue like this where there are Democratic and Republican districts on both sides of this Libya debate.
But Congress ought to be playing a role, and there are some tough questions for us to ask. Most significantly, you know, we"ve seized $33 billion of Gadhafi money. And he was stupid enough to invest it in the United States in a way that we could find. And yet, we"re not using that money to carry on operations in Libya. Instead, we"re using taxpayer money.
And I think if Congress gets involved, we"ll first look at those seized funds as a way to fund this operation, which after all is designed to help the people of Libya, who are the same people that Gadhafi stole the $33 billion from in order to invest in the United States.
MADDOW: California Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman, the way you are making the arguments tonight I think shows exactly why this is a totally nonpartisan issue in Congress right now. It"s fascinating to watch. Thank you for joining us this evening to explain what you"re doing. Really appreciate it.
SHERMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
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