TIME Business

Labor Day: Raising the Minimum Wage Stiffs the Poor

Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles on May 15, 2014.
Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles on May 15, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

There are at least three better ways to help low-income workers — and few ways that are worse

Another Labor Day, another bold plan to increase the minimum to help the working men and women of America!

On Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will announce a proposal to jack his city’s minimum wage from $9.00 all the way up to $13.25 over three years. That puts him ahead of President Obama, who has called for goosing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

Increasing the minimum wage is typically sold as a way of aiding poor people — LA business magnate and philanthropist Eli Broad says Garcetti’s plan “would help lift people out of poverty.” But it’s actually a pretty rotten way to achieve that for a number of reasons.

For starters, minimum-wage workers represent a shrinking share of the U.S. workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the percentage of folks who earn the federal minimum wage or less (which is legal under certain circumstances) comes to just 4.3 percent of hourly employees and just 3 percent of all workers. That’s down from an early 1980s high of 15 percent of hourly workers, which is good news — even as it means minimum wage increases will reach fewer people.

What’s more, contrary to popular belief, minimum-wage workers are not clustered at the low end of the income spectrum. About 50 percent of all people earning the federal minimum wage live in households where total income is $40,000 or more. In fact, about 14 percent of minimum wage earners live in households that bring in six figures or more a year. When you raise the minimum wage, it goes to those folks too.

Also, most minimum-wage earners tend to be younger and are not the primary breadwinner in their households. So it’s not clear they’re the ones needing help. “Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers,” says BLS, “they made up about half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less.” Unemployment rates are already substantially higher for younger workers — 20 percent for 16 to 19 year olds and 11.3 percent for 20 to 24 year olds, compared to just 5 percent for workers 25 years and older — and would almost certainly be made worse by raising the cost of their labor by government diktat. While a number of high-profile economists such as Paul Krugman have lately taken to arguing that minimum wage increases have no effect on employment, the matter is far from settled and basic economic logic suggests that increases in prices reduce demand, whether you’re talking about widgets or labor.

Finally, there’s no reason to believe that people making the minimum wage are stuck at the bottom end of the pay scale for very long. According to one study that looked at earning patterns between 1977 and 1997, about two-thirds of workers moved above the minimum wage within their first year on the job. Having a job, even one that pays poorly, starts workers on the road to increased earnings.

If we want to actually raise the standard of living for the working poor via government intervention, the best way to do it is via transfer payments — food stamps, housing subsidies, or even plain cash — that directly target individuals and families at or below the poverty line.

University of California sociologist Lane Kenworthy, a progressive who has called for a more generous social safety net, argues that virtually all increases in income for poor families in the U.S. and other wealthy countries since the late 1970s have been a function of “increases in net government transfers — transfers received minus taxes paid.” That’s partly because workers in poor households often have “psychological, cognitive, or physical conditions that limit their earnings capability” and partly because today’s “companies have more options for replacing workers, whether with machines or with low-cost laborers abroad.”

To be sure, arguing that you want to increase direct aid to poor families doesn’t give a politician the same sort of photo-op as standing with a bunch of union leaders on Labor Day and speechifying about the urgent need to make sure an honest day’s work is rewarded with a living wage.

But making just such a case could have the benefit of actually helping poor people in the here and now. Certainly a savvy politician could sell that to voters who know the value of hard work — and the limits of economic intervention.

TIME Opinion

Why Kirsten Gillibrand Should Keep Her Harassers’ Names Secret

She knows who they are, and they know she knows. America is half female, and a third obese. Checkmate.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) revealed in a new book excerpt Wednesday that some male colleagues had called her “porky,” “chubby” and “fat.” Naturally, a shocked and offended public is demanding her harassers be brought to justice. Get the pitchforks! And the regular forks! Specifically, some male journalists are asking that Gillibrand name names, because they are so deeply concerned with curbing sexual harassment in American government:

Even I tweeted yesterday that we should try to guess the culprits, before I realized that that information is infinitely more valuable if it’s kept a secret.

Kay Steiger at Talking Points Memo wrote Thursday that demanding the names suggests we don’t believe Gillibrand, or we’re telling her not to speak out unless she goes whole hog with total transparency. Besides, she rightly points out, men who harass women rarely face major consequences.

But there’s another reason Gillibrand shouldn’t reveal the name of the colleague who told her not to lose weight because “I like my girls chubby.” It’s a total power move. She knows who they are. They know she knows. Checkmate.

Which means somewhere on Capitol Hill, the hapless male Senator who called Gillibrand “porky” is probably cowering in his office, running that interaction in his head over and over again. “How can I spin this?” he’s thinking, “Could I make this about Michelle Obama’s fat-kids-thing? Could I say I was making a point about pork-barrel spending? Where is Olivia Pope when you need her?” Sweat is pouring off his brow, he’s wiping his forehead with his red-and-blue tie, he’s trying desperately to remember whether he pinched her arm or her butt that one time in the House gym. If Gillibrand exposes him, he’ll have a tough time winning over pretty big portion of the electorate: women (more than 50% of the U.S. population) and fat people (more than a third of all Americans.)

Suddenly, a text appears on his phone. “Hey Porker” and then, as a quick follow-up, “;)” He’s in Gillibrand’s house now.

Now, if Gillibrand’s bill to revamp sexual assault reporting in the military comes to the floor again, she can count on a vote from Mr. “Porky.” Need some muscle on a bill to protect contraceptive rights? The guy who called her “Honey Badger” will lend a hand. Maybe the genius who called her the “hottest member of the Senate” could vote with her on climate change.

Even Nancy Pelosi says that Gillibrand’s decision whether to name her harasser is her decision, “but the fact is they know who they are.” Burn.

Revealing her harassers would satisfy our curiosity and expose some senators for the jerks they are, but it’s much better in the long run for Gillibrand to keep their names secret. Exposure could cause some political turmoil for her colleagues, but Steiger is right that it’s more likely to blow over without costing anyone their seat. The more powerful choice is to describe the harassment without naming names, generate public outrage about the treatment of women in government and then use it to persuade the guilty parties to vote the way she wants them to.

Besides, like most scandals, an element of secrecy adds to the power of the charge, and makes Gillibrand seem more dignified. If she appeared on the cover of People next to a block quote that said, “Senator So-and-So Called Me Fat!” she could risk being seen as whiney or petty, and the story could quickly devolve into tabloid fodder. This way, she holds all the cards and maintains control of her image.

It’s what Olivia Pope would do.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Says ‘We Don’t Have A Strategy Yet’ for Fighting ISIS

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse"

+ READ ARTICLE

President Barack Obama seemed to commit the worst of Washington gaffes Thursday when he updated the American people about the ongoing threat from Islamist militants wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse: we don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said of the effort to combat the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in its safe haven in Syria. “I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggest that folks are getting a little further ahead of what we’re at than what we currently are.”

Obama’s comment that “we don’t have a strategy,” delivered to reporters at the White House before the Labor Day holiday weekend, prompted immediate mockery from Republicans — not to mention quick damage control from the White House.

“In his remarks today, [Obama] was explicit — as he has been in the past — about the comprehensive strategy we’ll use to confront [ISIS] threat,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a series of Twitter posts. “He was referring to military options for striking [ISIS] in Syria,” Earnest added in a hastily scheduled CNN appearance.

Obama was set to meet with the National Security Council on Thursday evening, and he said his Administration is working hard to develop a plan for stemming ISIS’s spread from Iraq to Syria.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them,” he said. Obama said he’s ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to begin assembling a coalition to strike back at ISIS, while he has tasked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to present him with military options. “We’re gonna cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy,” Obama said. “There will be a military aspect to that.”

The President defended his decision not to seek authorization from Congress before beginning strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq three weeks ago, saying the urgency of the threat to the U.S. consulate in Erbil required immediate action. “I can’t afford to wait in order to make sure that those folks are protected,” Obama said. Since Aug. 8, the military has conducted 106 air strikes in Iraq, according to U.S. Central Command.

Obama suggested that once he has a strategy for tackling ISIS, he would seek authorization from Congress, particularly since it may require additional funding. “It is my intention that Congress has to have some buy-in as representatives of the American people,” he said.

“This should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to [Shi‘ite], to everybody, that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” Obama said. “And as a consequence, we’ve got to all join together — even if we have differences on a range of political issues — to make sure that they’re rooted out.”

Obama also condemned continued Russia aggression in Ukraine, following U.S. and NATO confirmation of Russian ground troops and heavy equipment fighting against the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine, but he stopped short of calling it an invasion. The President ruled out American military action in Ukraine, but said the U.S. stands with its NATO allies in the region and suggested that additional sanctions on Russia will be forthcoming.

“We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem,” Obama said. “What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia. But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.”

TIME White House

LIVE: Obama Speaks on ISIS and Ukraine Crisis

President expected to address the fight against Sunni militants in Iraq, and the worsening situation in Ukraine

+ READ ARTICLE

President Obama is expected to address the nation from the White House press briefing room on the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS) and worsening violence in Ukraine.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton on Ferguson: ‘We Are Better Than That’

"We can't ignore the inequities that persist in our justice system that undermine our most deeply held values of fairness and equality"

+ READ ARTICLE

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her first public comments Thursday on the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., calling for the country to address “inequities” in the criminal-justice system.

The likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate addressed both the shooting and the days of often violent protests that followed, saying, “This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray.”

Clinton’s comments came at the end of a paid speaking appearance in San Francisco. She said her “heart just broke” for Brown’s family after the unarmed 18-year old was shot by police officer Darren Wilson more than two weeks ago. She also condemned the “terrible” images on television of heavily armed police facing off with largely peaceful protesters. “Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone,” she said. “Not in America, we are better than that.” And Clinton called for a renewed focus on reforming the nation’s criminal justice system, saying the country must confront lingering unfairness.

“We can’t ignore the inequities that persist in our justice system that undermine our most deeply held values of fairness and equality,” she said.

“Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers, instead of the other way around,” Clinton said, “if white offenders received prison sentences 10% longer than black offenders for the same crimes, if a third of all white men — just look at this room and take one third — went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that. That is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans and so many of the communities in which they live.”

Clinton noted that her remarks fell on the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington. “That mission is as fiercely urgent today as when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the hot August sun all those years ago,” she said. “So we have a lot of work to do together.”

TIME Immigration

Labor Leader Urges Obama to Go Big on Immigration

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO Michael Bonfigli—The Christian Science Monitor.

Seeking a change in deportations policy and an energized liberal base for the midterm elections

A top labor leader predicted Thursday that President Barack Obama will use his executive authority to make changes in immigration policy without congressional cooperation, but also castigated him for the high rate of deportations under his watch.

“He’s going to do something; I just hope it’s bold enough to be worthwhile,” Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “No matter what he does the right wing is going to go bonkers and say he doesn’t care about anything—[that] he isn’t enforcing the law.”

Obama has been under pressure from liberals to work around congressional opposition to comprehensive immigration reform by issuing executive orders. Trumka said that could be politically savvy with the midterm elections approaching—so long as Obama goes far enough to energize the liberal base.

“If he goes mild he’ll energize the right but he won’t energize the center and the left,” Trumka said.

The AFL-CIO, an umbrella union group, wants the President to defer deportations, grant work authorization to “low-priority” undocumented immigrants, and restore the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s authority over local law enforcement, among other demands.

Trumka said Thursday that the current “deportation policy doesn’t make sense,” and that Obama fell into a “classic trap” set by Republicans, raising the number of the deportations without guaranteeing a comprehensive immigration bill in return.

“What it did do is undermine the support [Obama] had in the Latino community because those communities really believe that they are under attack right now,” Trumka said. “You’re seeing families split up.”

TIME Military

America Is Using Cannons to Kill Mosquitoes in Iraq

The wreckage of a car belonging to Islamic State militants lies along a road after it was targeted by a U.S. air strike at the entrance to the Mosul Dam
U.S. airpower has been largely limited to attacking and destroying Humvees and other vehicles inside Iraq. Youssef Boudlal / Reuters

The world’s most powerful military is dispatching multi-million-dollar aircraft and their pilots into harm’s way to destroy $70,000 Humvees

The new war the U.S. is waging over Iraq is succeeding. With help on the ground from Kurdish and Iraqi troops, U.S. airstrikes have pushed fighters from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) away from the Mosul Dam.

But the daily details of U.S. military airstrikes only serve to highlight how little American military might can do.

“The strikes destroyed an [ISIS] Humvee,” U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.

“One strike destroyed an [ISIS] Humvee near the Mosul Dam,” Sunday’s announcement said.

“The strikes destroyed or damaged three [ISIS] Humvees,” Centcom said a week ago.

The world’s most powerful military is dispatching multi-million-dollar aircraft and their pilots into harm’s way to destroy $70,000 Humvees.

Adding insult to injury, the U.S. gave those vehicles to the Iraqi military, which fumbled them into ISIS hands after the militants overran Mosul and plundered Iraqi arsenals two months ago.

This may be the challenge of 21st century war. The American military, honed by its successes in World War II, is primed to attack militaries that look like it. Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq each presented U.S. war planners with target-rich environments.

But why should anyone confronting U.S. might want to fight on America’s terms? That’s why the U.S. military has been less successful in the target-poor environments of Vietnam, Afghanistan and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

President Barack Obama’s 100-plus airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS targets have beaten the jihadists back. Now he’s weighing an expanded campaign that would attack ISIS targets across the border, in Syria.

But any such action lacks a smart and achievable goal. Attacking ISIS in Syria would make the U.S. a de facto ally of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, whose civil war has killed nearly 200,000. It was three years ago this month that Obama said Assad must surrender power.

Most Americans don’t want more military action in the Middle East. Until they do—and their representatives in Congress are willing to back it with a declaration of war against ISIS—letting U.S. warplanes attack U.S.-built-and-paid-for Humvees inside Iraq may be the best, if unsatisfying, option.

TIME republicans

Women Find GOP ‘Intolerant,’ Report Says

The Republican Party's elephant symbol is seen on display on October 24, 2000 at the Republican campaign headquarters in El Paso, Texas.
The Republican Party's elephant symbol is seen on display on October 24, 2000 at the Republican campaign headquarters in El Paso, Texas. Joe Raedle—getty Images

A gender gap persists

Female voters have sharply negative views of the Republican Party, according to a new report of internal polling done by major GOP groups, the latest sign of the gender gap facing the party as it tries to recapture the White House in 2016.

Politico, which obtained a copy of the Republican polling, reports it found that many women consider the GOP “intolerant” and “stuck in the past.” The Republican groups that commissioned the polling, the Karl Rove-led Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network, hosted eight focus groups over the summer and survey about 800 registered women voters. Pollsters found that 49% of women have an unfavorable view of Republicans, while just 39% feel the same about Democrats, Politico reports. The establishment-friendly GOP groups are warning that Republican elected officials “fail to speak to women in the different circumstances in which they live” They’re advising officials to champion equal pay policies, and suggesting Republicans change the way they handle the issue of abortion: “Deal honestly with any disagreement on abortion, then move to other issues,” the report says.

Republicans are expected to easily keep their majority in the House and may even recapture the majority in the Senate during the coming midterm elections. But the gender gap will be more troublesome in the 2016 presidential election, especially if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

[Politico]

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: August 28

Tug of War

President Barack Obama and lawmakers in Congress are mulling whether he needs formal authorization to expand the fight against the militant group ISIS, a politically perilous question for both sides as the midterm elections loom

Uncle Sam Wants a Gram

Calling all pot farmers: the federal government is looking to buy, soliciting proposals to “harvest, process, analyze, store and distribute” cannabis

Israel and Gaza Count War’s Cost

Israeli and Palestinian leaders set out Wednesday to explain to constituents what was achieved during the latest fighting between the two sides

Russia Blasted for Escalating Ukraine War

Ukrainian and U.S. officials accused Moscow of sending heavily armed columns across the border into southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday — a move seen as part of a “Russian-directed counteroffensive” against Ukrainian forces in the five-month-old conflict

Apple Loses Bid to Ban Sales of Samsung Phones

A U.S. judge rejected Apple’s bid to permanently ban sales of some Samsung phones that were found to infringe Apple patents. Apple and Samsung agreed earlier this month to drop patent disputes against each other outside the U.S.

CDC Director: Ebola Is ‘Worse Than I’d Feared’

On Wednesday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, said the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a “much bigger problem than anyone anticipated.” Over 1,400 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone

Howard Dean’s Group Endorses Mary Burke in Wisconsin

Democracy for America, the 50-state group pulled together by former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, endorsed Mary Burke’s campaign against Republican Governor Scott Walker. Burke is a millionaire former executive at Trek Bicycles

USC Suspends Football Player for Fake Drowning Story

University of Southern California’s cornerback Josh Shaw said on Wednesday he lied when he told his coaches he sprained his ankles while attempting to save his drowning nephew. In response, the USC Trojans suspended Shaw indefinitely from the athletic program

What it Really Takes for Schools to Go Digital

President Obama hailed Mooresville, N.C., as a model for the future of public education. But the neighboring Iredell-Statesville Schools District offers a more accurate picture of the challenges most schools face in bridging the technological divide

Sopranos Creator Calls Tony Soprano Comment ‘Inaccurate’

“The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer,” David Chase said in a statement released by his publicist, responding to an interview published by Vox. “Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point”

Erasing Bad Memories May Soon Be Possible

Using state-of-the-art laser and gas techniques, researchers working with mice have made stunning breakthroughs in stripping the painful and negative feelings associated with a traumatic memory to neutralize its effects on a subject

Chuck Berry Honored at Polar Music Prize Ceremony

Rock legend Chuck Berry, who was awarded the Polar Music Prize in May, has been honored at a ceremony in Stockholm. The Polar Music Prize is the so-called “Nobel of the music world,” given annually to one recipient each from the fields of modern and classical music

Get TIME’s The Brief e-mail every morning in your inbox

There will be no #AskTIME subscriber Q&A this Friday, August 29—we’re taking a break this Labor Day. We will be back next week, Friday, Sept. 5. Enjoy your weekend, morning must-readers!

TIME nation

Obama Goes to War (With Congress)

The President began bombing ISIS on his own, but only Congress can start a war

Earlier this summer, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine found himself in the Grand Foyer of the White House playing the foreign policy–hypothetical game with President Obama. Over drinks with some Senate Democrats, the President mentioned Kaine’s article that day in the Washington Post demanding a congressional vote to authorize any new military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the armed extremist group overtaking large chunks of Iraq.

The Law Professor in Chief, who campaigned for office promising to rein in executive power, proposed some scenarios. “He’d say, ‘Here’s the situation. Do you think I have executive authority to act?'” Among the possibilities Kaine recalls: What if there is an imminent threat to a U.S. embassy? “We generally agreed on most of them,” says Kaine. But not all.

Two months later, those debates are no longer hypothetical. Since Aug. 8, Obama has unilaterally ordered more than 100 bombing runs on ISIS targets in northern Iraq, citing his authority under Article II of the Constitution to protect U.S. lives and offer humanitarian aid. Hundreds of military advisers have been dispatched to Iraq, along with shipments of lethal equipment to proxy forces in the region. Through it all, the White House has maintained that Obama has no plans to seek permission from Congress, which returns from recess on Sept. 8.

The Constitution gives the President the power to defend the country as Commander in Chief, but it delegates the power to declare war to Congress. Kaine is one of several Senators who believe Obama has stretched his powers about as far as they can go. “I am worried about the consequences of Congress basically saying the President can decide unilaterally which organizations to launch air strikes against,” says Kaine.

The Obama Administration, meanwhile, has been signaling that the conflict with ISIS is likely to expand before it contracts. U.S. officials worry about what they believe are hundreds of ISIS fighters with Western passports who could attack Europe or the U.S. if they return to their homelands. General Martin Dempsey, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that defeating ISIS will require action by U.S. or other forces on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. Days later, Pentagon sources leaked news of new U.S. surveillance flights over Syria to better map out ISIS positions, a possible prerequisite to expanded bombing efforts. “Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” Obama said on Aug. 26. Though the White House insists no decisions have been made for an expanded campaign against ISIS, no one denies that preparations are under way.

The ironies of the situation are striking. A President who helped build his national profile by opposing the war in Iraq now must decide whether to force a vote on a similar military adventure just weeks before midterm elections. But the commander who deferred to Congress rather than launch air strikes on Syria last year may not be able to attract the votes on Capitol Hill that he has in the past claimed to need. “I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress,” Obama said one year ago. “And I believe America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.”

There are plenty of reasons for the White House to avoid a bitter debate over a new war in the Middle East. Obama’s attempts to get approval from Congress for the last round of Syria strikes failed to muster the required votes, and it divided his own party, upsetting many on the left. He has also spent some of his second term celebrating what he described as the coming end to the war on terror, a goal that seems increasingly distant. Congressional leadership on both sides is skittish about a vote. “Neither he nor the Congress wants to have this dance now,” says Jack Goldsmith, who led the Office of Legal Counsel for President George W. Bush. “That’s really what is going on.”

In the meantime, the White House has been searching for a legal justification for a protracted military campaign that doesn’t involve going to Congress. A 2002 congressional authorization to use force in Iraq remains on the books, but the White House announced in July that the document “is no longer used” and should be repealed. That leaves the 2001 congressional authorization to pursue those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, which a White House spokesperson says the Administration is “currently reviewing” to see if it applies to ISIS.

But Obama allies like Kaine, who otherwise supports Obama’s ISIS campaign, say that document clearly doesn’t cover ISIS, which did not exist in 2001. Far from being a partner of al-Qaeda, ISIS has emerged as a rival in the region. And in 2001, Congress rejected a White House request for broader authorization to allow military force against threats unconnected to al-Qaeda.

A third option–perhaps the most likely outcome–is for Obama to declare that his constitutional powers allow him to continue the conflict without Congress. A Vietnam-era law requires the President to seek congressional authorization for hostilities within 60 days of their launch, or begin military drawdowns; that deadline would expire after Oct. 7. But Obama never sought such authorization for the bombing campaign that toppled Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Instead, his lawyers argued that the limited nature of U.S. support for air strikes on Libya did not amount to “hostilities” under the law.

In the end, the greatest risk for Obama in avoiding Congress may be to his legacy. No court is likely to force him to stop military action, and Congress is unlikely to unite around a demand for a vote. But Obama has repeatedly promised the American people a more democratic approach to warfare. As so often happens in the Oval Office, the President must now decide whether to pay a political price to uphold his public vows.

–WITH REPORTING BY JAY NEWTON-SMALL AND ZEKE MILLER/WASHINGTON

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