Senate Votes to Repeal Iraq AUMF, Ending ‘Blank Check’ for Presidents to Bypass Congressional War Declarations

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Senate voted 66-30 Wednesday to repeal two Iraq-related war authorizations, with Republicans divided on the question at a time of stepped-up attacks on U.S. troops by Iranian proxies in the region.

All 30 “no” votes came from Republicans, while another 18 Republicans voted with Democrats in favor of repealing the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that paved the way for the invasion of Iraq 20 years ago, and the 1991 AUMF that authorized Operation Desert Storm.

Debate and a series of unsuccessful GOP amendments over the past week centered on the 2002 AUMF, and especially its use in countering malign Iranian activity in the region.

“Multiple administrations have relied on this authority to address the threat from Iran-backed Shi’a militias,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said before the vote.

(When President Trump ordered the January 2020 airstrike that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, the White House cited the 2002 AUMF in part as legal justification. Soleimani oversaw the Iraq-based Shi’ite militias.)

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Pointing to some of the most recent attacks by Iran-backed militias, including one on Thursday that killed an American contractor and wounded five U.S. service members in eastern Syria, Risch said the Biden administration’s attempts to deter Iran were clearly failing.

“Iran has long sought to eject the United States from Iraq. Iran and its proxies have attacked American troops and diplomats over 80 times just since President Biden took office, and with only a few U.S. responses.”

“It’s clear that Iran doubts America’s resolve,” he said. “I stand here today to say to Iran: Have no doubts, we do have resolve.”

(Biden has ordered retaliatory strikes in response to the more than 80 drone or rocket attacks just four times, on Feb. 25, 2021, Jun. 27, 2021, Aug. 23, 2022, and last week.)

Repealing the 2002 AUMF now would send a “dangerous message at a poor time,” Risch contended.

“It’s clear the region seen the Biden administration sitting on the sidelines. This repeal will only add fuel to the narrative that the U.S. is disengaging from the region, which we hear all the time.”

Risch concluded by saying he hopes to see the AUMF repealed in the future, “but now is not the time for it. The realities on the ground convince me I cannot support repeal at this time. We’ve got to deal with the world as it is.”

‘Permanent blank check for presidents’

Supporters of repeal said that the U.S. is partnering with Iraq in joint efforts to prevent a resurgence of the ISIS threat, but at the same time is still technically at war with Iraq.

They also argued that by keeping the “outdated” AUMFs in place, Congress has forfeited the authority to make and oversee wars to the White House.

“Here’s the choice before us,” said Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who led the bipartisan repeal effort with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), “We repeal these authorizations, we restore a part of our system of checks and balances, or we let them live on, extending a permanent blank check for presidents to bypass Congress in authorizing military action.”

Also speaking ahead of the vote, Kaine pointed out that the Senate has spent a lot longer debating repealing the AUMF this month that it did debating the original decision to approve it.

“We have given dramatically more time in this body to the question of whether we end two wars, one declared in 1991 and one declared in 2002, than was given to the momentous question of whether we should start a war,” he said. “And I think that is a lesson that we should all absorb and learn from.”

Among the 11 Republican-offered amendments defeated earlier was one by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seeking to repeal the separate AUMF put in place to respond to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The measure failed in a 9-86 vote.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) offered an amendment to require AUMFs to expire after a two-year period unless renewed by Congress. It was voted down in a 19-76 vote.

Among other unsuccessful amendments, one sought to link the AUMF repeal to the president certifying that Iran has stopped supporting terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. Another sought to authorize the use of military force specifically against Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

After Wednesday’s vote, attention moves to the House, where a bill authored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and co-sponsored by 12 Republicans and 11 Democrats was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month.

In mid-2021 the House passed a bill to annul the 2002 Iraq AUMF, with 49 Republicans voting for the legislation and 160 against it.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last week signaled his support for repealing the Iraq-related AUMFs.

The 18 Republican senators who supported repeal in Wednesday’s vote were Sens. Mike Braun (Ind.), Ted Budd (N.C.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Me.), Kevin Cramer (N.D.), Steve Daines (Mont.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Josh Hawley (Mo.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Mike Lee (Utah), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Roger Marshall (Kans.), Jerry Moran (Kans.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rand Paul (Ky.), Eric Schmitt (Mo.), J.D. Vance (Ohio), and Todd Young (Ind.)

Not voting were Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Democrat Sens. Chris Coons (Dela.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and John Fetterman (Pa.).

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