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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 TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report 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 CorkerCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia GOP-affiliated voters outperforming Democrats in key states’ early voting: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says he is cutting foreign aid over caravan | Lawmakers point fingers at Saudi crown prince | DNC chair downplays 'blue wave' talk MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

In addition to Corker, Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineAmerica’s ball cap industry is in trouble Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE (D-Va.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Flake says he and his family got death threats 'from the right' Trump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it MORE (D-Del.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungMnuchin pulls out of Saudi conference On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE (R-Ind.) and Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout Poll: Nelson leads Scott by 6 points in Florida Senate race Poll: Nelson tied with Scott in Florida Senate race 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 CornynManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown 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.