President Biden elbow bumps Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin during a visit to the Pentagon last month. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – President Biden’s decision to bomb an Iran-backed militia near the Syria-Iraq border after rocket attacks targeting U.S. troops is breathing new life into bipartisan congressional initiatives aimed at repealing various authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs) under which successive administrations have carried out strikes in the region.
In the Senate, three Republicans and three Democrats are supporting a measure introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) seeking the repeal of two AUMFs, passed by Congress in 1991 and 2002, providing authorization for Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, respectively.
Kaine and Young introduced their joint resolution on Wednesday, and it was referred to Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Democrat Sens. Tim Kaine, Va., and Tammy Duckworth, Ill., and Republican Sens. Rand Paul, Ky. and Todd Young, Ind. (Getty Images)
Co-sponsors are Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Democrats Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Chris Coons (Dela.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.). Kaine had introduced a similar measure in 2019, with the support of Young, Lee, Coons and Duckworth.
“Last week’s airstrikes in Syria show that the executive branch, regardless of party, will continue to stretch its war powers,” Kaine said on Wednesday. “Congress has a responsibility to not only vote to authorize new military action, but to repeal old authorizations that are no longer necessary. The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs that underpinned the war against Iraq need to be taken off the books to prevent their future misuse.”
Paul said he has been fighting since his first days in office to reassert congressional authority over war powers, introducing amendments to defense authorization legislation as far back as 2011 “focused on putting an end to the current permissions granted after 9/11 which have been abused by presidents of both parties for years.”
“It’s long past time that we respect the balance of power and reassert Congress’ voice by forcing legislators to specifically approve or disapprove of the direction of our foreign policy,” he said.
Biden did not in fact rely on an AUMF in justifying the February 25 airstrikes just inside Syrian territory.
Instead, when he notified congressional leaders – in line with his obligations under the 1973 War Powers Act – he cited his constitutional authority as commander in chief and chief executive, as well as international law – the U.S.’s “inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesman Ned Price used identical wording during their respective briefings on Wednesday, saying the airstrikes had been carried out “in a manner that was calculated, proportionate, and fully covered by legal authorities.”
Less than a week after the airstrikes, another Iraqi base housing U.S. forces came under rocket attack on Wednesday local time. No U.S. troops at the Al Asad base were injured, but an American civilian contractor died after a “cardiac episode.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said afterwards that once the culprits have been identified the U.S. will respond “at a place and time of our choosing.”
Progressive Democrats who expressed support for reining in the executive branch after the strikes included Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), and Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), and Lee (Calif.).
Whether Democrats in general will take on their own president on the issue remains to be seen.
Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian Republican from Kentucky, recalled that after President Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Iran’s Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020 – Trump cited the 2002 AUMF as statutory authorization – Democrats introduced a resolution designed to restrict the president’s ability to engage in further hostilities against Iran. It passed by 224 votes to 194, with Massie, Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and former Rep. Francis Rooney (Fla.) the only Republicans to vote in favor.
“Now that President Biden has launched an attack directed toward Iran in a sovereign country without permission, I wonder if [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] will be consistent and offer a similar resolution to assert the Constitutional authority of Congress to decide when we go to war?” Massie asked.
In January, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced two bills, seeking to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF and another AUMF, which authorized the use of force on those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 attack on America.
The bill repealing the 2001 (9/11) AUMF is co-sponsored by 50 Democrats and two Republicans, Massie and Gaetz.
The bill repealing the 2002 (Iraq) AUMF has the support of 76 Democrats and seven Republicans – Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Alexander Mooney (W.V.), Chip Roy (Texas), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Nancy Mace (S.C.), and Massie and Gaetz.
Lee has introduced similar bills in the House multiple times since 2010.