Tom Pacheco, a senior political science and philosophy double major and Mariah Young, a junior political science and journalism double major, represented UMW at the debate, the first in a series of debates sponsored by the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), a national association promoting policy topic intercollegiate academic debate, and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
The Miller Center is a nonpartisan affiliate of UVA that specializes in presidential scholarship, public policy and political history.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) gave opening remarks at the debate.
“This issue of finding a consensus between the legislative and executive branches is not just a matter of constitutional law,” said Kaine. “It’s not right to ask men and women to go into harm’s way on behalf of the nation if there isn’t a political consensus supporting the mission that they have to sacrifice for.”
Kaine said that both he and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are working together to improve the 1973 War Powers Resolution Act (WPRA), which he called ambiguous, and therefore ineffective.
According to former Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, director and CEO of the Miller Center, the War Powers Consultation Act (WPCA) that the National War Powers Commission proposed would succeed where the WPRA fails.
Baliles, who moderated the debate, said that the WPCA would “require the president to consult with Congress before ordering troops to go to war, provide a joint consultation committee and demand an up or down vote by Congress within 30 days.”
Pacheco and Young, joined by students from GWU and the University of Pittsburgh, defended the WPCA against students from the U.S. Naval Academy, James Madison University and Georgetown University.
Students from the team debating against the WPCA argued that the problem is politics, not the law.
Joseph Nelson, a student from GWU, argued, “The current Syria debate proves that Congress has prerogative, initiative and drive to be involved in the decision making process.”
Pacheco has eight years of debate experience.
Pacheco said that asking questions of the opponents is critical in a debate.
“The questions gave us a chance to create a presence and credibility for when we would speak. It also showed how engaged we were,” said Pacheco. “We had to speak last, but it would have been difficult to establish a presence in the last speeches if those were the only points where we had spoken up.”
Young has debated since high school and was excited to debate on such a timely topic.
“Not only does it relate to what’s happening current day, but it really touches base on our yearly topic for policy debate,” said Young.
In reference to President Barack Obama’s decision to involve Congress on the decision of a strike on Syria, Haley Kane, a sophomore, believes the decision is a tough one.
“The media has really focused on the emotional aspects of the chemical warfare, but I think that there is more to the situation than is being presented, and we may not want to get involved,” said Kane.
According to Kane, it is beneficial for students to debate topics such as presidential war powers.
“I think that it’s good that people are debating these things. War is a very big decision,” said Kane.
Adrienne Brovero, UMW debate coach and director of debate, believes everyone who participated in the debate did a good job.
“News was evolving throughout the course of the day and all of the students were engaged and listening,” said Brovero.
Students arguing against the WPCA voiced their concern about the constraints which the act would place on the president, as well as Congress’ inability to agree on issues.
Young countered stated, “Congress is the first in line when it comes to the representation of the public, allowing Congress to consider their constituents is an important aspect of being a democracy. Every voice should be heard, and the decision to go to war should not be taken lightly.”
Pacheco, who gave the closing statement for his team, said, “This debate amounts to three questions: the effectiveness of the War Powers Resolution, the effectiveness of the War Power’s Consultation Act and the flexibility that the president needs in order to conduct foreign policy.”
The opposing team argued that consultation would be an empty gesture that would delay action.
“Democracy may not be fast, but it is beautiful when it works,” said Pacheco.
At the end of the debate, audience members were given an opportunity to ask the students questions about their arguments.
“There was a lot of good discussion and communication with the audience,” said Young. “It was good to see that the audience was digesting what we said. The Q & A is always my favorite part.”
Timothy O’Donnell, former director of debate at UMW, said he was glad to see a lot of students questions at the end.
“I think that debates are one of the best ways to provide the general public, or students, with informed background on issues of both sides,” said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell said that he is interested to see how the rest of the debates in the series build on what was discussed at this inaugural event.
Jamie Newman, a senior English major, said she thinks it’s good to have open discussions on issues that are critical to our nation.
“As long as it’s mediated properly, it’s good to discuss. We are here to learn,” said Newman.
According to Brovero, the debate team will compete at Georgia State University this weekend for their first national tournament of the year.
“I think that UMW is well represented, and we should be proud of Tom, Mariah and coach Brovero for the efforts that they’ve put in,” said O’Donnell.