Momentum to Repeal Iraq-Era War Authorization Grows in Congress

Momentum is growing in Congress to repeal a 2002 resolution authorizing the U.S. to go to war in Iraq, as both chambers take up measures to clear it from the books.

“I strongly and fully support repealing the 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in his first formal statement of support for the effort. “It’s been nearly ten years since this particular authorization has been cited as a primary justification for a military operation. It no longer serves a vital purpose in our fight against violent extremists in the Middle East.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expects the House to pass a measure repealing the 2002 authorization when it comes up for a vote Thursday. She said the repeal is “long overdue.”

The legislation is sponsored by Representative Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against the initial 2001 authorization following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

“Once we pass a repeal of the 2002 AUMF, we must keep up our fight to repeal the 2001 AUMF so that no future president has the unilateral power to plunge us into endless wars,” Lee, a California Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday.

Lawmakers of both parties have complained for years that presidents have used the authorizations for the use of military force, or AUMFs, as blank checks for intervention far from the original targets, such as ousting Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and sending troops into Afghanistan to defeat the al-Qaeda terrorists behind Sept. 11. But efforts have foundered on efforts to define how much or little leeway presidents should have in the uncertain constitutional territory between a president’s power as commander-in-chief and that of Congress to declare war.

Legislation will “eliminate the danger of a future administration reaching back into the legal dustbin to use it as a justification for military adventurism,” Schumer said.

The White House has issued a Statement of Administration Policy in support of Lee’s bill, signaling backing from President Joe Biden. The administration said the U.S. “has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis” and its repeal “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.”

More broadly, the administration added that Biden “is committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats.”

The Senate measure is sponsored by Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia and Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana. It would also repeal a 1991 AUMF connected to the first Gulf War. Kaine said he expected that both chambers will pass versions of the bill that will then be incorporated in fiscal 2022 defense policy bill to be taken up toward the end of the year.

“We’ll get it done,” Kaine said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to take up the measure at a committee meeting next week.

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