26. Editorial Note

On November 7, 1973, Congress dealt President Nixon a legislative setback when it voted to override his veto and to enact House Joint Resolution 542, known as the War Powers Resolution. As passed, the War Powers Act (Public Law 93–148), widely seen as a reassertion of congressional authority over foreign policy in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, where United States troops fought without a formal declaration of war, required the President to notify the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate within 48 hours of any commitment or substantial enlargement of United States combat forces abroad. The new legislation also stipulated that troop commitments be terminated within 60 days of the President’s initial report unless Congress declared war, specifically authorized continuation, or was unable to convene due to an armed attack upon the United States. Furthermore, it permitted Congress, at any time United States forces were engaged without a declaration of war or specific congressional authorization, by concurrent resolution to direct the President to withdraw such troops. The House of Representatives voted 284–135 in favor of the measure, four votes more than the two-thirds majority necessary under the Constitution to override; the Senate voted 75–18 to override. (Congress and the Nation, Vol. IV, 1973–1976, pp. 849–851)

President Nixon vetoed the War Powers Resolution on October 24, just four days after his controversial firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. According to Nixon’s accompanying message to Congress, he vetoed the measure because the restrictions it imposed “upon the authorities of the President are both unconstitutional and dangerous to the best interests of our Nation.” Specifically, he contended that the resolution’s 60-day limit on troop deployments and its provision by which Congress could effect troop withdrawal by mere joint resolution encroached upon the chief executive’s Constitutional powers. Moreover, he claimed that the resolution “would seriously undermine this Nation’s ability to act decisively and convincingly in time of international crisis. As a result, the confidence of our allies in our ability to assist them could be diminished and the respect of our adversaries for our deterrent posture could decline.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 893–895, 915)