Politico | 27 June 2017
On this day in 1973, President Richard Nixon vetoed the Senate’s bid to end the bombing of Cambodia. His veto, however, had only a short-term impact: Within days, the whole Congress voted to cut off all funds for the Vietnam War.
Despite his 1972 electoral triumph, the political tide had turned against Nixon. Given the political realities, the Republican president agreed to stop bombing Cambodia, thereby ending a 4½-year campaign. The Nixon administration had kept the bombings secret from Congress for months, claiming they were directed against Vietnamese targets. The air raids had gradually drawn Cambodia into the war.
In the fall of 1973, Congress took another step toward reining in the president by passing the War Powers Act; this legislation sharply curtailed the president's authority to wage a sustained war without express congressional consent.
Nixon sought to squelch the bill with his ninth veto of the year. He failed again — yet another indication of his dwindling power in the face of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Subsequent presidents, however, have largely dismissed the War Powers Act as unconstitutional and claimed they are not bound by its terms.
Two years later, with Nixon gone in disgrace, Congress spurned a request by President Gerald Ford to increase aid to South Vietnam by $300 million. Soon afterward, the former U.S. ally came under communist control. At that juncture, both conservative Republicans and hawkish Democrats had largely concluded that Vietnam was lost cause.
The tide was running against U.S. intervention in proxy wars against the communists. Thus, in 1976, with a presidential election at hand, Congress banned funding anti-communist forces in Angola. Henry Kissinger, Ford’s secretary of state, said that “we are living in a nihilistic nightmare. It proves that Vietnam is not an aberration but our normal attitude.”
In due course, with Cuban military assistance, Angola fell under the control of a pro-communist faction. While congressional Democrats were not happy with the outcome, most of them believed that, by and large, Americans did not want to enter another protracted conflict far from home. One cartoonist at the time quipped: “If you liked Vietnam, you'll love ... Angola.”
Congress also reviewed administration policies on covert operations and intelligence. Hearings organized by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) pressured Ford into issuing an executive order that imposed restrictions on the CIA, including a ban on assassinations.
Ford agreed to issue the order, rather than waiting for congressional reforms. Dick Cheney, Ford’s chief of staff, told him such a preemptive move would protect the CIA from “irresponsible attack” and protect future presidential authority.
In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required court-supervised monitoring of domestic surveillance operations.