by Ellen Mitchell Hill edited by O Society May 23, 2019
The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that would end the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), as lawmakers grow increasingly concerned over the possibility of war with Iran.
On Tuesday, the committee voted along party lines, 30-22, for Rep. Barbara Lee‘s (D-Calif.) amendment to sunset the AUMF, which has been used as legal justification for military operations against terrorist groups.
Passed days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it has been cited as a justification for conflict 41 times in 18 countries.
“In the last 18 years, it really has become increasingly clear that the AUMF has essentially provided the president – and that’s any president – the authority to wage war anywhere in the world at any time,” said Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF when it was passed.
“It already is floated as a possibility for using this AUMF as the legal basis to go to war with Iran, a war, again, Congress has not debated or authorized,” she added.
The amendment would sunset the broad war authorization eight months after the bill becomes law. She argued that it gives Congress and the Trump administration “plenty of time to vote and debate on a new AUMF.”
The language was offered as tensions between Washington and Tehran have reached a new high in recent weeks, with the accelerated deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the region along with a B-52 bomber task force earlier this month.
Lee offered an identical amendment during the last year’s markup of the defense appropriations bill. It was voted down.
The same amendment also came up for the spending bill in 2017 and surprisingly passed; however, House leadership later stripped the provision before it came to the floor, arguing that a spending bill was not the place to address the issue.
Lee for years has led the charge to replace the 2001 AUMF with one that imposes geographic and time limits and names specific groups it covers.
She argues, for example, that the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) should not be covered under the AUMF as the group did not exist when it was passed.
Replacement efforts are upended over concerns they would hinder a president’s authority to defend the country.
GOP lawmakers are also concerned that ending the current war authorization without a new one already approved could hamper military operations.
“This amendment would automatically repeal the 2001 AUMF just 240 days after this bill was signed into law. I can think of few things more dangerous and ill-conceived than removing a fundamental underpinning for US military operations without having consensus agreement on what is to replace it,” said the Defense subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas).
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), noted that as “imperfect as it may be, the 2001 AUMF is the foundational authority for ongoing U.S. military operations in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and against ISIS.”
“This fight is so critical to our national security that it would be utterly irresponsible and dangerous to repeal the 2001 AUMF until we replace it,” he said.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who supported Lee’s amendment in 2017, rose in “very reluctant opposition” on Tuesday.
“When I supported the amendment two years ago, I did so as a flare to sort of get the attention of my leadership and the administration that this is an issue, I think, we ought to come back and deal with,” Cole said. “I think the appropriate place to deal with it is actually in the Foreign Relations Committee.”
Cole acknowledged the House Foreign Relations Committee has yet to hold a hearing on the topic, but stressed that the process of an AUMF repeal and replace “needs to begin and needs to begin there with a thorough discussion and debate.”
“After watching this for many years, I understand the frustration. We ought to have the solution before we launch ourselves on a path where we don’t know where we’re going to go.”