- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2021

Senate Republicans are demanding that Congress hold public hearings before voting to repeal the authorizations for use of military force against Iraq.

The Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, sent a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, requesting the hearings as well as classified briefings before any vote takes place.

“We should fully evaluate the conditions on the ground, the implications … and how adversaries — including ISIS and Iranian backed militia groups — would react,” the senators wrote. “It is also important to consider the policy and potential legal consequences of our reduced presence in the region and the impending withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.”

In their letter, the senators urged for the hearings to be transparent and include top officials from the state department, the Pentagon and the intelligence community. The lawmakers also pushed President Biden to make administration officials available for classified briefings on the topic.

“The administration should also make its case to Congress in a closed, classified setting to ensure every question is answered,” the senators wrote.

The letter comes after the Democratic-led House voted last week to repeal the 2002 Iraq War authorization. The authorization provided legal backing for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Advocates of repealing the authorization, including Mr. Biden, argue it is needed to rein in presidential war powers and reassert congressional control.

“Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. The Iraqi government is democratic and working closely with the United States to confront security threats,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “The reasons this [authorization] was enacted no longer exist.”

Since the beginning of this year, there have been more than 40 attacks, mostly with rockets, on U.S. military forces in Iraq. The uptick in violence is attributed to al Qaeda and ISIS.

Critics of the repeal warn that limiting Mr. Biden’s ability to retaliate would only empower terrorist forces in the region. 

“The legal and practical application of the 2002 [authorization] extends far beyond the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who is opposing the repeal efforts. “Tossing it aside without answering real questions about our own efforts in the region is reckless.”

The administration, however, contends otherwise. 

In a statement endorsing the repeal effort, the White House said it has “no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 [authorization] as a domestic legal basis” and its abrogation “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.” 

“The president 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 White House said. 

With Mr. Biden’s backing, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has promised to hold a vote on the matter later this year.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on it Tuesday, potentially teeing up a vote by the full Senate.

“In no way will America abandon our relationship with Iraq and its people as they rebuild their country after years of war and our shared fight against ISIS, but there are very good reasons to repeal this specific legal authority,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat. 

Overhauling presidential war powers, especially those granted by the Iraq War authorization acts, has become a priority for Democrats since former President Donald Trump left office. 

Many point to Mr. Trump’s use of the authorizations to justify the drone strike in January 2020 in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The Trump administration targeted Soleimani for his role in planning attacks against U.S. forces throughout the Middle East. 

“The American people should know that the president’s decision to remove Soleimani from the battlefield saved American lives,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time. 

Democrats, however, view the incident and its justification through the Iraq War authorizations as the best argument for repeal. 

“There is no good reason to allow this legal authority to persist in case another reckless commander in chief tries the same trick in the future,” Mr. Schumer said.

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