Question 2

In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

Barack Obama

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.” The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Hillary Clinton

The President has the solemn duty to defend our Nation. If the country is under truly imminent threat of attack, of course the President must take appropriate action to defend us. At the same time, the Constitution requires Congress to authorize war. I do not believe that the President can take military action – including any kind of strategic bombing – against Iran without congressional authorization. That is why I have supported legislation to bar President Bush from doing so and that is also why I think it is irresponsible to suggest, as some have recently, that anything Congress already has enacted provides that authority.

John Edwards

As I've said many times, we do not need a march to war with Iran. I strongly oppose George Bush's doctrine of "preventive war" and believe that force always should be an option of last resort. I opposed the recent Kyl-Lieberman bill declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which I believed was the first step on the administration attacking Iran. I believe that the 2002 bill authorizing force in Iraq does not in any way authorize the use of force in Iran.

Bill Richardson

The Constitution assigns to Congress, not to the President, the power to declare war. However, in the case of an imminent threat, when there is no time to go to Congress, the Commander in Chief may, and indeed must, act to protect the United States. Given that the Iranian nuclear program does not pose such an imminent threat, if the President believed it was in the US national interest to attack Iranian nuclear sites, he should seek prior authorization from Congress.

Christopher Dodd

Only in the case of an imminent threat to the national security of the United States or the national security of its allies would the President have the right to act militarily without Congressional approval. However, he would be bound by provisions of the War Powers Act to notify Congress and get retroactive approval to continue any military action.

Joseph Biden

Let’s not kid ourselves: any military conflict with Iran is likely to become major.

A so-called “surgical” strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would probably require thousands of sorties by our air force, over two to three weeks. It would mean bombing Iran’s radar sites and air force, repeatedly striking multiple targets across the country, securing the Straits of Hormuz and oil facilities throughout the Persian Gulf, and preparing for attacks against our troops, citizens, allies, and interests across the region and beyond.

What looks “limited” to us almost certainly would be seen as something much bigger by the Iranians and could spark an all-out war.

There’s only thing worse than a poorly planned, intentional war: an unplanned, unintentional war.

It is precisely because the consequences of war – intended or otherwise – can be so profound and complicated that our Founding Fathers vested in Congress, not the President, the power to initiate war, except to repel an imminent attack on the United States or its citizens.

They reasoned that requiring the President to come to Congress first would slow things down and allow for more careful decision making before sending Americans to fight and die – and ensure broader public support.

The Founding Fathers were, as in most things, profoundly right. Thus, the President has no authority to use force in Iran unless Iran attacks the United States, or there is an imminent threat of such an attack. 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.

John McCain

Well he doesn't. But if there is an imminent threat, the president has to act in America's security interest. ... He should [go to Congress] absent an imminent threat. But in the event of an imminent threat, the President has a constitutional obligation to protect the American people.

Mitt Romney

A President must always act in the best interests of the United States to protect us against a potential threat, including a nuclear Iran. Naturally, it is always preferable to seek agreement of all – leadership of our government as well as our friends around the world – where those circumstances are available.

Ron Paul


Rudy Giuliani

Giuliani declined to answer this question.

Mike Huckabee

Huckabee declined to answer this question.

Fred Thompson

Thompson declined to answer this question.