Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez honored a Republican request and hit the brakes on a bill to repeal Iraq War authorizations, a Menendez spokesman said.
Mr. Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, delayed a vote set for Tuesday to advance the bill to the full Senate, spokesman Juan Pachon said.
The repeal of the authorization for use of military force would be the first rollback of presidential war powers since 9/11, though critics say threats persist in the region from Iran and the Islamic State group.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah led fellow Republicans on the committee in sending a letter Monday to Mr. Menendez requesting the holdover and public and classified hearings on the bill, including testimony from the Defense and State departments and the intelligence community.
The senators also pushed for President Biden to make administration officials available for the classified briefings on the topic.
“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 in the letter, which was first obtained by The Washington Times. “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.”
Mr. Menendez’s delay of the vote until at least July did not necessarily mean he would satisfy the Republicans’ demand for hearings.
Mr. Menendez’s decision to honor the holdover request was first reported by The Hill.
The House passed a bill last week to repeal the authorization, which provided legal justification for President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The Senate measure also includes a provision to repeal the 1991 authorization for the Persian Gulf War.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he supported the House measure and would green-light a Senate vote this year.
“The Iraq War has been over for nearly a decade. The authorization passed in 2002 is no longer necessary in 2021,” Mr. Schumer said last week.
Mr. Biden supports the repeal.
“The president is committed to working with Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats,” the White House said.
Critics 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.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Texas Republican, said he agrees that the authorizations should be updated, but he voted against the measure because the administration would be limited in its ability to prevent attacks in the region and target Iranian networks that continue to thrive.
“That remains very unclear if you repeal the AUMF from 2002,” he said. “It was a tough vote because we didn’t get any indication from the DoD on this, on how they would see it, which is problematic.”
The House voted to repeal the authorization after the Trump administration used it to justify the drone strike in January 2020 in Iraq that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The 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 for the battlefield saved American lives,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time.
Democrats view the incident and its justification as the best argument for repealing the authorizations.
“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.