New War Authorization for U.S. Military Getting Bipartisan Push

(Bloomberg) -- A bipartisan group of senators proposed updating Congress’s authorization for U.S. military action in the Middle East, days after President Donald Trump ordered strikes on Syria to retaliate against a chemical weapons attack.

The authorization would apply to the war on terrorism and not action against the Syrian regime, said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker Tennessee, who with Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine led the senators in introducing the measure.

“It’s very specific that it cannot be used against nation-states,” Corker said. “I don’t think the Syria issue helps or hinders” drawing support in Congress.

The measure would repeal an authorization Congress passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and would allow the use of military force against non-state terrorist groups abroad, including al-Qaeda, Islamic State and other associated groups. It would give Congress a fast-track opportunity to block the expansion of actions to new territories or groups, and would establish a process to review the measure every four years to prevent a lapse in authorization. Corker told reporters he hopes his committee will consider it on April 23.

Corker reiterated that he believes Trump has separate, existing authority to conducted the type of “surgical strike” the U.S., U.K. and France made against Syria. He said if administration requests authorization for it as part of the bill he is open to providing that.

Syrian Civil War

The possibility that the U.S. may become more deeply engaged in Syria’s seven-year civil war is reviving a longstanding and unsettled debate over Congress’s role in authorizing the use of military force. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, an authority it largely ceded to the president over the last 70 years.

So far, the administration -- including Defense Secretary James Mattis -- has operated under the assumption that the existing 2001 authorization for use of military force gives legal cover for military operations in Syria and elsewhere.

House members are scheduled to receive a classified briefing Tuesday from administration officials including Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford on last week’s military action in Syria, a House aide said. Senators will also get a briefing.

Resistance From Leaders

Any effort to update the use of military force could run into resistance from leadership in both chambers even if the Foreign Relations panel approves it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is unlikely to bring the measure up without a specific request from the Trump administration.

Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said Thursday that the existing AUMF gives the president “the authority he needs to do what he may or may not do” regarding Syria.

Corker said his first priority is to see if the proposal can get out of his committee. He acknowledged it has been “difficult” for many years to pass a new authorization.

Corker said the co-sponsors of his measure also include Democrats Bill Nelson of Florida and Chris Coons of Delaware, and Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Todd Young of Indiana.

“Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria without Congress’s approval is illegal,” Kaine said Saturday on Twitter. “We need to stop giving presidents a blank check to wage war.”

Democrats and Republicans have disagreed previously on new legislation. Democrats have sought limits to a new AUMF, while Republicans don’t want any caveats to tie the U.S. military’s hands in future operations.

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