War authorization push hits snag in House

War authorization push hits snag in House
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A push to include a new war authorization in a House spending bill appears to have hit a roadblock, while a separate provision forcing Congress to discuss a new war authorization was stripped from the chamber's annual defense policy bill this week.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) fears her provision forcing Congress to vote on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) will be stripped out of the House Appropriations defense spending bill. Lee had offered an amendment to revoke a 2001 AUMF in eight months.

That war authorization, passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as a 2002 authorization for the Iraq War have together been used more than 37 times in the last 16 years by the past three presidents to justify military action in 14 countries, including the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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GOP leadership is not pleased with the language, despite the measure being surprisingly backed by both Republicans and Democrats when it was voted into the House defense spending bill in late June.

Lee said after a meeting with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) on Wednesday that he “did not commit to preserving this amendment in the Rules Committee.” Ryan had said in June that the amendment was a “mistake.”

“There is a way to discuss this debate, but this [amendment], which endangers our national security, is not it,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told The Hill. 

The Foreign Affairs Committee also argues the provision violated the House’s rules, claiming it was out of order.

Focus on the measure comes after the House on Friday passed its annual $696.5 billion defense policy bill in a 344-81 vote, but did not include a provision that would have forced Congress to discuss a new war authorization. 

The amendment was blocked from debate for the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, sidestepped in favor of softer language.

proposal offered by Reps. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father Erik Prince says meeting with Russian banker unrelated to Trump campaign MORE (D-Calif.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) to repeal the 2001 and 2002 measures – replacing both with a new war authorization tailored for a new enemy – didn’t make it in to the NDAA.

The provision didn’t even receive a vote after the House Rules Committee declined to move it forward for a floor debate.

Instead, the House approved by voice vote Thursday Rep. Tom Cole’s (R-Okla.) amendment to have the White House “provide to Congress a strategy and a budgetary analysis needed to defeat Al-Quaeda, the Taliban, ISIS” and affiliated groups. The amendment also requires an assessment on whether the existing 2001 and 2002 AUMFs are adequate to accomplish such a strategy.

“It’s a baby step, but at least it’s a step,” Cole said of the amendment, adding that “sooner or later, Congress needs to take responsibility” for war authorization.

“This is a complex, very difficult new kind of war, but it doesn’t excuse us from the obligation to do our job,” he said on the House floor.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) praised the effort and said it was time to update the current AUMF with “a methodical, deliberate process that will take us close to doing what we ought to do."

“Given the change of circumstances and the evolution of threats that we now face. . . . the men and women risking their lives deserve to know they have the full backing of Congress,” Thornberry said. 

But Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) expressed his frustration with the slow pace of change and multiple times called the blocking of an AUMF discussion “shameful."

“The Cole amendment - which I’m happy to support - is a report. Enough, time to do our job. This is why people are cynical about Washington when they hear this kind of double talk. What are we going to do? Not do our job but we’ll issue a report,” he fumed. “We are not an advisory commission."

“Congress has not taken a single vote, has not taken a single stand on this war for 16 years, but ... each year the Republican leadership does everything it can to stop any debate on these wars. Congress avoiding taking any responsibility for continuing to send our service men and women into harms way is absolutely shameful. Mr. Speaker, it is cowardice,” McGovern added.

Lee, who voted against the the defense policy bill, is adamant that stripping language for her measure in the spending bill would be a mistake.

"The inclusion of the 2001 AUMF repeal in the Defense Appropriations bill is the closest we’ve come to requiring a vote on ongoing military action," she said in a statement.

"Eliminating this amendment behind closed doors would be undemocratic and further undermine our constitutional obligation on matters of war and peace.”

Lee spokesman Christopher Huntley told The Hill on Friday that her office is “just waiting to see what the next steps are going to be,” but are all but certain the GOP will move to take the language out.

“It’s a waiting game at this point,” he said.