Senate Moves Toward Repealing Authority For Military Force Against Iraq

Jennifer Shutt, Florida Phoenix

The U.S. Senate took a broadly bipartisan vote Thursday to advance legislation that would end the 32-year-old and the 20-year-old Authorizations for Use of Military Force against Iraq.

The 68-27 vote moves the measure past the chamber’s 60-vote legislative filibuster and towards a final passage vote as soon as next week. House Republican leaders, some of whom have opposed repeal in the past, would then need to decide whether to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

“Iraq is no longer a force for chaos. Iraq is now a force for regional stability and the U.S. is their partner of choice,” said Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who sponsored the legislation. “Why would we want two war authorizations against a nation that has become a partner of choice?”

The United States maintains about 2,500 troops in Iraq to help the country’s government “counter ISIS and other non-state terrorist threats that threaten not only Iraq, but other nations in the region,” Kaine said.

Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young, a primary co-sponsor of the bill, said during floor debate it’s been more than 10 years since any president cited the 2002 AUMF to justify U.S. military action. But he noted keeping the two authorizations in place could create issues.

“Leaving these authorities on the books creates an opportunity for abuse by the executive branch and bypasses Congress on the most important issue we consider as a body, which is how and when to send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way,” Young said.

Young sought to address objections to the repeal from some of his Republican colleagues, saying the AUMFs are not the appropriate way to try to address Iran. 

“I share the views of so many of my colleagues on the need to counter Iran. I really do,” Young said. “But reimagining a more than 20-year-old authorization that was passed to combat a totally different enemy is not the way to do it.”

The United States and Iran haven’t had formal diplomatic relations since 1980, partly in response to the Iranian revolution and the hostage-taking of American diplomats in the country. Tensions have continued in the decades since over numerous issues, including Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, its human rights abuses and treatment of women.

Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Steve Daines of Montana, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Young of Indiana were among the Republicans voting to advance the measure.

Does not include AUMF from 2001

The four-page bill would repeal the Authorizations for Use of Military Force or AUMFs that Congress approved in 1991 and 2002 for military action in Iraq.

The legislation doesn’t repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That AUMF was originally used for the war in Afghanistan, though it’s since been used for military and counterterrorism operations in several other countries.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Thursday the chamber would vote on amendments to the Iraq AUMF repeal bill. Those votes will likely take place next week, before the Senate votes to send the measure to the U.S. House.

U.S. House lawmakers voted 268-161 last Congress to approve a similar bill that would have repealed the 2002 AUMF against Iraq, but the U.S. Senate never took it up and efforts to get the language in the annual defense authorization package were unsuccessful.

The current slate of House GOP leaders — Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York — all voted against approving that bill.

A bipartisan group of U.S. House lawmakers has re-introduced a bill in their chamber this Congress that matches the U.S. Senate legislation advanced Thursday.

It so far has 23 co-sponsors including, Florida Republican Byron Donalds, Oregon Democrat Val Hoyle, Michigan Democrat Daniel Kildee, Tennessee Republican Andrew Ogles, Montana Republican Matthew Rosendale and Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger.

“Voting on decisions of war and peace is a fundamental and constitutional responsibility for Members of Congress,” Spanberger said in a written statement announcing the bill’s release this Congress. “We must be accountable to the American people and cannot abdicate this responsibility to open-ended AUMFs that give too much power to a President and don’t require Congress to take consequential votes.”

Scalise and Emmer’s offices did not return requests for comment about whether they’d put the legislation on the House floor.

Difference from declaration of war

An Authorization for Use of Military Force is different from when Congress formally declares war, which it has done 11 times for five wars, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The House voted 250-183 in January 1991 to approve that AUMF with the Senate approving it by unanimous consent. The 2002 AUMF passed the House following a 296-133 vote in October and the Senate approved the measure on a 77-23 vote.

The White House indicated Thursday that if Congress approves the repeal of both AUMFs, President Joe Biden will sign the measure.

Repealing the Iraq AUMFs “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,” the administration wrote in a Statement of Administration Policy.

“Furthermore, President Biden remains 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 more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

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