Senators introduce bill to update Trump's war authority

Senators introduce bill to update Trump's war authority
© Greg Nash

Senators are renewing a long-stalled debate over President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE's legal authority to target terrorist groups overseas. 

A bipartisan group of senators introduced the legislation to update the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) on Monday.

If passed, it would replace the 2001 and 2002 bills that authorized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and have been used as the legal basis for military action against terrorist groups.

"There have been a number of efforts over the years to update these authorities, and while there is still work ahead, I am pleased that we have reached an agreement on a product for the committee to consider," Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

In addition to Corker, Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Kaine asks Shanahan if military families would be hurt by moving .6B for border wall MORE (D-Va.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePoll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE (R-Ariz.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump got in Dem’s face over abortion at private meeting: report Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Actor Chris Evans meets with Democratic senators before State of the Union MORE (D-Del.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungIndiana gets first national park Ivanka Trump to meet with GOP senators to discuss paid family leave legislation Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal MORE (R-Ind.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson2020 party politics in Puerto Rico There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition Dem 2020 candidates court Puerto Rico as long nomination contest looms MORE (D-Fla.) are supporting the bill.

Though the legislation comes days after President Trump launched "precision" military strikes in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, the bill does not address the president's legal authority to take action against Syrian President Bashar Assad or any other nation-state.

It does specify that a sovereign nation would not qualify as an "associated force." 

In addition to repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, it allows Trump to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"Our proposal finally repeals those authorizations and makes Congress do its job by weighing in on where, when and with who we are at war," Kaine added in a statement.

In a move that is likely to draw backlash from liberal lawmakers and outside groups, it would allow Trump to take action against an associated terrorist group or use military action in a new country without congressional authorization.

Trump would then need to notify Congress, who would under the legislation have 60 days to try to remove his authority to target the associated group or prohibit him from taking action in a specific country.

Corker told reporters that the legislation does not include a built-in sunset for the new AUMF.

Instead, it establishes a process whereby every four years a president must submit a proposal to Congress, which could then be fast-tracked through both chambers. If Congress doesn't pass new legislation, the Corker-Kaine war bill would stay in place.

Kaine said the Trump administration pushed back strongly against including a firm sunset in the bill. 

"That was strongly objected to by Secretary Mattis and others. They just felt like if you do that, you're sending a signal that you're going to leave and they'll wait you out," he said. 

He added the language in the final bill was a "middle ground" between the Democratic push for a firm sunset and Republican's push for no timeline. 

The legislation comes as Congress has struggled for years with passing a new war authorization amid deep political and policy divides.

Corker said he hopes the Foreign Relations Committee will mark up the legislation next week, as soon as Monday.

He noted earlier this year that he would like a week of floor time to debate the issue, if it can get passed his committee. But that could be a big ask heading into a midterm election, where leadership could be wary of starting debate of Trump's war authority.

"It is a political season. Everybody says they want to weigh in on an AUMF. We'll see if everybody really wants to weigh in an AUMF," Corker told reporters on Monday. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate plots to avoid fall shutdown brawl Inviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said late last week that he has not heard any discussion of giving the bill floor time. 

—Updated at 8:10 p.m.