The House voted Thursday to repeal the 2002 resolution that cleared the way for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as the Senate prepared to take up similar legislation.
“Nearly 20 years have passed since the Congress passed the 2002 authorization of military force and 10 years have passed since the formal end of the U.S. military operations in Iraq,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “And yet today, 10 years later, our nation is still operating under an outdated authorization of military force which risks being used, and in some cases has been used, as a blank check to conduct unrelated military operations.”
The repeal resolution, passed 268-161, was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California who has pushed for years for Congress to repeal the authorization. Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against a 2001 AUMF clearing U.S. military action in Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks. She also voted, along with several other members, against the 2002 authorization.
“We cannot revise history as it relates to why this authorization was put into place,” Lee said on the House floor. “Yet this authority remains on the books, vulnerable to misuse, because Congress has not acted to remove it.”
Lawmakers of both parties have complained for years that presidents have used the authorizations for the use of military force, or AUMFs, as blank checks for intervention far removed from the original targets, such as ousting Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and sending troops into Afghanistan to defeat the al-Qaeda terrorists behind Sept. 11. But efforts have foundered on defining how much or little leeway presidents should have in the uncertain constitutional territory between a president’s power as commander-in-chief and that of Congress to declare war.
“Now is the time for bold action to end our forever wars. We must seize this opportunity to reassert Congress’s constitutional authority on matters of war and peace,” Lee said in a statement ahead of the vote. “This effort extends beyond repealing the 2002 AUMF -- we must also work to repeal the overly broad 2001 AUMF so that no future president has the unilateral power to plunge us into endless wars.”
Some Republicans argued that Congress was acting too quickly. Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that while he supported the effort to repeal the 2002 and 2001 AUMFs, he believed that new authorities needed to be put in place. And he argued that repealing the 2002 AUMF was an effort to undo Trump’s decision to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
“America and the world are much safer with Qassem Soleimani gone,” McCaul said. “Today the biggest threat in Iraq is not Saddam Hussein, we can all recognize that, but it is the Iran-sponsored terrorist groups attacking our diplomats, our soldiers, our embassy and our citizens. They cannot be targeted using the 2001 AUMF because they are not associated with the forces of al Qaeda, the Taliban or ISIS. But they can be targeted using the 2002 AUMF as the prior administration did to take out Soleimani.”
The White House has issued a statement of administration policy in support of Lee’s bill, signaling backing from President Joe Biden. The administration said the U.S. “has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis” and its repeal “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.”
More broadly, the administration added that Biden “is committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats.”
In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has signaled his support for an effort led by Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Tim Kaine and Republican Senator Todd Young to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force in Iraq. The Foreign Relations Committee is slated to take up a resolution related to those measures next week.
“It’s been nearly 10 years since this particular authorization has been cited as a primary justification for a military operation,” Schumer said. “It no longer serves a vital purpose in our fight against violent extremists in the Middle East.”
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, echoing McCaul’s sentiments, said that repealing the 2002 AUMF without first enacting a replacement could lead to unintended consequences, including new administrations relying more on presidential authorities and less on Congress for clearing military action.
“The right way to address ongoing terrorist threats is a debate certainly worth having,” McConnell said. “And it’s one we should have before we vote to repeal these authorities. Reality is more complicated, more dangerous and less politically convenient than its supporters actually believe.”
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