The Senate voted on Wednesday to repeal two presidential authorizations for use of military force in Iraq following a bipartisan push to reclaim the war powers two decades after the last U.S. invasion of the nation.
In a 66-30 vote, the chamber approved the measure to scrap the 1991 and 2002 authorizations that paved the way for the Gulf War under President George H.W. Bush and the 2003 invasion of Iraq under his son, President George W. Bush.
The legislation now proceeds to the House where an outright repeal without updated authorities to replace the 2002 AUMF is expected to be met with resistance from key lawmakers.
The bill’s co-sponsors, Sens. Todd Young, Indiana Republican, and Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, praised the passage as an important step toward reasserting congressional war powers.
“Passage of this bill with strong bipartisan support takes us a step closer to restoring the proper role of Congress in authorizing military force and affirmatively stating when conflicts are over,” Mr. Young said.
The push to repeal the outdated authorizations has become a perennial fight on Capitol Hill. Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat and the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF authorizing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, has, for years, led the effort in the House to reclaim congressional authority to wage war.
The Democratic-led House repealed the 2002 AUMF in a 268-161 vote in June 2021, but that push failed to clear the Senate.
Those who support the repeal said the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs have long outlived their purpose and left the nation’s military might susceptible to overreach by the executive branch.
“The United States, Iraq, the entire world has changed dramatically since 2002, and it’s time the laws on the books catch up with those changes,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “These AUMFs have outlived their use.”
But last week’s attacks on U.S. troops by Iranian-backed militias in Syria have spotlighted a key concern among those who oppose an all-out repeal of the 2002 AUMF without a replacement. Critics say that without the war authorization in place, the commander in chief’s hands would be tied in responding to the persistent threats from Iranian-backed militias in the region and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Roughly 900 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of Pentagon contractors are stationed in Syria. Last week a suspected Iranian-made drone was used in an attack that killed an American contractor and wounded several troops stationed in the country. That assault sparked a series of tit-for-tat attacks between the U.S. and Iranian-backed groups, raising fears of an escalating conflict.
“Iraq has come under extremely heavy influence and manipulation from Iran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has spent years standing up political parties, militias and terrorist proxies in Iraq whose chief loyalty is to Tehran,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday. “Our enemies in Iran who have spent two decades targeting and killing Americans in the Middle East would be delighted to see America dial down our military presence, authorities and activities in Iraq.”
He added, “Tehran wants to push us out of Iraq and Syria. Why should Congress make that easier?”
President Biden warned last week that he stands prepared to “act forcefully” to protect U.S. citizens from attacks in Syria while stressing that he does not seek a widening clash between the U.S. and Iran.
“Make no mistake, the United States does not, does not I emphasize, seek conflict with Iran,” Mr. Biden said. “But be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people. That’s what happened last night.”
Mr. Biden previously registered his support for appealing the authorizations, arguing they are outdated.
The administration has also strayed from previous administrations’ tendency to lean on the 2002 AUMF for engagements in the region, citing Article 2 of the Constitution for 2022 airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia fighters in Iraq and Syria.
In his letters to Congress last week outlining his authorization for the recent strikes in Syria, Mr. Biden strayed from citing the 2002 AUMF as providing a legal foundation.
Still, Republicans have criticized Mr. Biden in the aftermath of the recent attack, noting an uptick in assaults on U.S. forces by Iranian-backed groups and accusing the president of failing to meet the onslaughts with sufficient aggression in response.
“After a small initial response from the Biden administration, Iran launched yet more attacks over the weekend, aimed at killing even more Americans,” Mr. McConnell said. “Our president’s response to this escalation seems to have been to pull his punches and let Tehran have the last word.”
Mr. McConnell said the attacks should serve as a wake-up call for lawmakers.
“While the Senate’s been engaged in this abstract, theoretical debate about rolling back American power, Iran has continued its deadly attacks on us,” he said. “Some in America may think our war against terrorism is sunsetting, but clearly the terrorists do not agree.”
House Republicans, meanwhile, have signaled the Senate repeal will not get a rubber stamp in the lower chamber, saying they will work to modernize the presidential war powers rather than repeal them outright.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, last week said he wants to update the AUMF.
“Congress needs to own a comprehensive replacement AUMF in consultation with our military commanders and the intelligence community,” Mr. McCaul told The Washington Times. “Piecemeal repeal of those Iraq authorities is not a serious contribution to war powers reform.”
• Susan Ferrechio contributed to this story.
• Joseph Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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