On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of legislation that revokes the legal authority of presidents to use force in Iraq, returning the power back to Congress.
The bipartisan bill, which passed 66-30, would repeal the authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, that Congress passed in 1991, in the lead-up to the Gulf War that same year under President George H.W. Bush, and another that passed in 2002, before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 under President George W. Bush.
“Twenty years after the start of the Iraq War, the Senate finally, finally, finally declares today the time has come to repeal the legal authorities that began that war in the first place,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, ahead of the vote Wednesday, per MSNBC News. “Democrats and Republicans join to say it has been long enough, the Iraq War has long been over, these authorizations for use of force against Iraq are no longer necessary for our security.”
Reintroduced by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.,, this bill does not repeal a third military force authorization, enacted in 2001 after the 9/11 attack and prior to the invasion of Iraq. According to a research paper from Brown University, this military force authorization resolution has been used to justify counterterrorism activities in 22 countries, including Libya, Pakistan, Cuba and Turkey
Sen. Lee offered an amendment to ‘reign in this abuse’
Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky offered amendments to the initial bill to include the 2001 AUMF, but the amendment votes failed.
Lee’s amendment sought to implement a two-year sunset for future military use authorizations and an expedited process for Congress to review and reevaluate these measures, according to information provided by Lee’s office.
When introducing his amendment, the Utah senator said these existing AUMFs have been broadly applied and interpreted, leading to “endless war.”
“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,” Lee said.
“Now some have argued that ‘we don’t enter into wars to withdraw,’ (and) ‘when we must fight, we must win’ but this argument has it exactly backward,” he said. “What could be stronger than a Senate resolution reaffirming our commitment to a given conflict,” arguing in favor of Congress revisiting military authorizations every two years.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., supported Lee’s amendment, saying that Congress has “over the course of the last several decades completely outsourced that responsibility to set the national security of this policy to the executive branch, and a national security apparatus inside the executive branch, that has become bigger than the Founding Fathers’ wildest dreams.”
President Joe Biden, who voted in favor of the military force authorizations while serving on the Senate Foreign Relates Committee, said he supports the repeal of the 1991 and 2002 military authorizations.
“Repeal of these authorizations would have no impact on current U.S. military operations and would support this administration’s commitment to a strong and comprehensive relationship with our Iraqi partners,” Biden’s office said in a statement.
Romney, other GOP senators oppose repeal
As The Hill noted, many of the GOP senators who oppose the repeal of authorizations did so because of concerns about Iran, like Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, alongside 29 other Republicans.
Romney told reporters that he voted no on the legislation “largely from a messaging standpoint — which is Iran is messing around in Iraq and Syria and other places, and I don’t want to give any miscommunication that somehow we are backing off of our commitment to oppose their aggressions.”
Meanwhile, Sullivan, who also voted no, had offered an amendment that addressed the issues with Iran.
He stated that “one of the biggest harms to American service men and women over the past 20 years has actually been from Shia militia groups supported by Iranian terrorist organizations,” misunderstood for an Iraqi force.
The Iranian terrorist group, Quds Force, led by Qasem Soleimani, killed more than 600 deployed American soldiers during the Iraq War. When Soleimani was traced to Iraq again in January 2020, the Trump administration ordered a deadly drone strike.
“The legal authorization for that very justified killing was the 2002 AUMF that we are debating right now. OK. That was only three years ago that that happened,” Sullivan said. “So it is very relevant to the issue of deterrence and very relevant to the issue of Iran.”
Now, the bill will face the divided U.S. House. Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy so far has said that he thinks “it has a good chance of one, getting through the (House Foreign Affairs Committee) and getting to the floor.” His only condition — the 2001 military use authorization, passed post 9/11, stays in place, as Roll Call reported.
Contributing: Suzanne Bates