How Biden’s View on Presidential War Powers Has Shifted

If he is elected to a second term, President Biden pledged that he will go to Congress to start any major war but said he believed he was empowered “to direct limited U.S. military operations abroad” without such approval when such strikes served critical American interests.

“As president, I have taken great care to ensure that military actions carried out under my command comply with this constitutional framework and that my administration consults with Congress to the greatest extent possible,” he wrote in response to a New York Times survey of presidential candidates about executive power.

“I will continue to rigorously apply this framework to any potential actions in the future,” he added.

The reply stood in contrast to his answer in 2007, when he was also running for president and, as a senator, adopted a narrower view: “The Constitution is clear: Except in response to an attack or the imminent threat of attack, only Congress may authorize war and the use of force.”

In the survey, The New York Times asked major presidential candidates to lay out their understanding of issues that can be critical to the outcome of policy fights but about which they are rarely asked: the scope and limits of a president’s power to act unilaterally or in defiance of statutes, particularly in war, secrecy and law enforcement.

Mr. Biden’s answers showed how his view of executive power evolved over years in the White House — eight as Barack Obama’s vice president and now nearly three as president.

Only a handful of candidates for the Republican nomination engaged in the survey, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami before he suspended his campaign late last month.

Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman and entrepreneur, answered only about half of the 14 questions, and former President Donald J. Trump declined to participate altogether, as did Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, among others.

The Times has published in full the answers of participants, including Mr. Biden and two of his Democratic challengers, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson.

Notably, Mr. Biden declined to embrace the idea of curtailing emergency powers Congress enacted that presidents can activate if they declare that there are exigent circumstances, said Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and former senior Justice Department lawyer in the Bush administration.

Mr. Trump invoked emergency powers to spend more on a border wall than lawmakers were willing to appropriate, and the Biden administration invoked the authority for a plan to forgive more than $400 million in student debt. (The Supreme Court struck down the proposal over the summer.) There are bipartisan proposals in Congress to impose new curbs, such as by ensuring that national emergencies terminate after 30 days unless lawmakers affirm a presidential declaration.

Asked whether he would sign such a bill, Mr. Biden instead made a vague remark about “working with Congress on devising sensible solutions to the challenges we face as a nation.” He added that he would use…

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