(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Utah) offered an amendment on Thursday that would have required congressional war authorizations to expire after two years if not renewed by Congress.
The amendment was offered to a bill that would terminate the resolutions Congress passed in 1991 and 2002 authorizing war in Iraq.
Lee’s amendment was backed not only by some liberal senators, but also by some conservatives. Yet, it was defeated 19 to 76. (It would have needed 60 voted to be adopted.)
“Prior to the American Revolution, our Founders became very familiar with the British system, under which one person, the Monarch, could take the entire country to war,” Lee said in a floor speech before his amendment came up for its vote.
“It was up to Parliament, at that point, to fund it and up to the people to fight it. But one person could take the country to war,” said Lee.
“The Founders understood this, and they understood that unchecked and unaccountable wielding of military force is, in fact, the stuff of Monarchs, of dictators and tyrants, which is exactly why the Founders entrusted this authority only to the people’s representatives, in the branch of the federal government most accountable to the people at the most regular intervals,” he said.
“We are abdicating our constitutional duty,” said Lee.
“By passing my amendment, we have the opportunity to ensure that all Americans have a voice in matters of war and peace,” he said.
Among the 19 senators who voted for Lee’s amendment were Republicans Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and J.D. Vance of Ohio.
Among Democrats who voted for the bill were Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also voted for the amendment.
Here is a transcript of the Senate floor speech that Lee gave on Thursday about his amendment:
Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Utah): “Mr. President, we are abdicating our constitutional duty. Sometimes we do this when we delegate law-making power to the executive
branch. Sometimes we do this when we shirk in our responsibility to declare war.
“Today, I want to focus on the latter. By passing my amendment, we have the opportunity to ensure that all Americans have a voice in matters of war and peace.
“For decades, Presidents of both parties have used authorizations for use of military force to conduct military operations without meaningful oversight or accountability to Congress.
“The Founders jealously guarded war powers and the power to authorize military force. They understood what it meant to be subjected to an executive with unfettered military authority. And, indeed, this is one of the essential distinguishing characteristics between our system of government and that of England.
“Prior to the American Revolution, our Founders became very familiar with the British system, under which one person, the Monarch, could take the entire country to war. It was up to Parliament, at that point, to fund it and up to the people to fight it. But one person could take the country to war.
“The Founders understood this, and they understood that unchecked and unaccountable wielding of military force is, in fact, the stuff of Monarchs, of dictators and tyrants, which is exactly why the Founders entrusted this authority only to the people’s representatives, in the branch of the Federal Government most accountable to the people at the most regular intervals.
“Throughout history, when Kings waged war, it was the people who fought and died. One of the many things that makes our system of government unique is this principle our Founders enshrined into our Constitution, which gave every American a voice when they were faced with the prospect of sending their sons and daughters to war.
“Unfortunately, we have strayed from our founding principles.
“My amendment, which can pass today, is a recognition that we, as elected representatives, have a duty and an obligation to reclaim the authority to declare war that rightfully belongs to the American people. My amendment does precisely that. It implements a 2-year sunset for all future authorizations for use of military force, absent renewal by Congress.
“In no way would my amendment hinder military planning or weaken our national security posture. To the contrary, it would induce a proactive approach rooted in the present day and time. It would reaffirm our resolve and strengthen our military planning. It would show that we, as representatives of the American people, are committed to conducting military operations with oversight and accountability.
“It accomplishes this by requiring a joint resolution of extension to renew future AUMFs each Congress. Under this process, Congress may choose to let an AUMF expire or renew it under a joint resolution of extension with expedited procedures. This is a fast-track process, requiring only a simple majority in the Senate, designed to make AUMF renewals as easy and seamless as possible, so as not to hinder military planning.
“My amendment gives Congress the ability to review and reevaluate our involvement in the wars and adjust them, if necessary, to better meet the specific objectives of the conflict or engagement. This flexibility and agility is nearly impossible under the current system, which has opened the door for overly broad applications and interpretations of existing AUMFs, sometimes past decades before the moment of a particular conflict or engagement, which in turn leads to endless wars.
“It would be a way for Congress to rein in this abuse without hindering our ability to adequately respond to present-day national security threats.
“Now, some have argued that we don’t enter into wars to withdraw; when we must fight, we must win. But this argument has it exactly backward.
“What could be stronger than a resolution reaffirming our commitment to a given conflict? And given that every Member of the House of Representatives is up for reelection every 2 years and one-third of the Members of this body in the Senate are up for election every 2 years, we resolve some of the uncertainty that our partners and our adversaries might see, might fear, might wonder about if, in fact, we are not regularly renewing each AUMF in each Congress.
“This is about accountability to the public. It is about the republican form of government as a whole. It is about restoring Congress’s article I authority to declare war and authorize the use of military force.
“Let us do what we were elected to do: ensure that all Americans have a voice in matters of great importance, especially when it comes to matters of war and peace, and that no President has the power historically reserved for Monarchs, despots, and tyrants.
“I implore my colleagues to pass this amendment and thus restore the balance of powers mandated by the U.S. Constitution.”
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