GOP rift exposed as senators warn McCarthy against Iraq vote
Prominent Senate Republicans are warning House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) not to hold a vote on a Senate-passed bill repealing authorization for the use of military force in Iraq without making major changes to it, laying bare the growing Republican divide over national security.
McCarthy faces a tough decision after 18 Republican senators voted with 45 Democrats and three Democratic-aligned Independents Wednesday to repeal the war authorizations Congress passed in 1991 and 2002, sending it to the House.
Some Republicans see the internal rift over repealing the authorization for use of military force (AUMF) as part of a larger battle within the party over America’s role in maintaining global order and future defense spending, as well as support for the war in Ukraine.
“The battle is really within the Republican Party, and I think the majority of Republican voters are for less intervention and less spending overseas,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who voted to repeal the authorization for use of military force in Iraq.
Paul thinks the majority of Senate Republicans who voted against repealing the military authorization and who support funding for the war in Ukraine are out of step with GOP voters.
“If you start to ask where’s the caucus for continued funding or unlimited funding — so it seems — for Ukraine, I think probably 60 percent, 70 percent of Republicans at home are not for that,” he said.
Paul pointed out that former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the two front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, are “skeptical” of policies extending U.S. intervention in other parts of the world. But he said that Senate Republican leaders remain staunch proponents of projecting U.S. military power throughout the world and supporting the war in Ukraine.
Republicans are also deeply divided over curbing defense spending as part of a deficit-reduction deal with Democrats.
McCarthy told reporters last week that he didn’t have a problem with repealing the authorizations but has since come under pressure from Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
The Senate bill will likely pass the House if it comes up for a vote unchanged.
An overwhelming majority of House Democrats are expected to vote for it, and between a third and half of House Republicans may support it as well.
That would hand a political win to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and other Democrats and divide Republicans in the House, like it did the Senate.
“The American people, as we know, are tired of endless wars in the Middle East. Every year we keep these AUMFs on the books is another chance for future administrations to abuse them,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
A majority of Republican senators voted Wednesday against the bill, which McConnell warned would make it easier for Iran to push U.S. troops and personnel out of Iraq and Syria.
“Our terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “Tehran wants to push us out of Iraq and Syria. Why should Congress make that easier?”
Other Republicans who opposed the measure say it would put U.S. troops at greater risk of attack.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that “about 70 percent of our conference wanted to replace [the war authorizations] with something” to deter Iranian aggression in the region instead of flat-out repealing them.
“No matter how well intentioned you are here, it’s going to be seen as we’re leaving” Iraq, Graham said, which he argued would build on the narrative pushed by China and other adversaries that the United States is an unreliable ally.
“I hope the House will change this dramatically, because in its current form it’s a very bad idea,” he said, adding that it would “most definitely” put U.S. troops at risk.
Graham offered an amendment to the bill to authorize the use of military force against Iranian-backed militias located in Iraq. It failed by a vote of 36 to 60.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said McCarthy should amend the bill to repeal the 2002 authorization for use of military force until President Biden or a future president certifies that Iran has stopped supporting terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.
Without that change, Rubio warned that “it will be perceived by the Iranians who are not experts on our system of government that this is Congress telling the president to get out of Iraq and Syria.”
“They would view that as a green light to step up attacks against us,” he said.
Rubio’s amendment failed in a 32 to 63 vote.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the House should add language to the bill to give Biden clear authority to take military action against Iran’s affiliates in Iraq.
“He should include my amendment,” he said. “The problem is the Biden administration and President Biden in particular has been so weak in dealing with our enemies, and in particular in dealing with Iran.”
He said Biden wants to enter into a new nuclear agreement with Iran and is “willing to subjugate every other foreign policy objective” to that goal.
“My amendment simply repeats the Article II standard that the commander in chief has the legal authority to act to defend servicemen and women and to prevent an attack or imminent attack,” he said.
Cruz’s amendment failed by a vote of 41 to 55.
Paul, however, told The Hill that McCarthy should pass the repeal of military force authorization without changes.
“If we can’t end a war that’s been over … I don’t know what we can do,” he said. “Show some resolve. A significant portion of his caucus is for it. I think it will pass with 60, 70 percent of the vote.”
McCarthy told reporters last week that the bill will a have to “go through committee’ but predicted it has “a good chance” of making it to the floor.
But Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who is standing in for McConnell while he recuperates from a concussion at home, said he doesn’t know what McCarthy will do.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do over there. They could certainly improve it. Some of the amendments that got voted down over here, a number of them, would be good changes in terms of the policy,” he said.
Thune told reporters Tuesday that attacks on U.S. military basses in Syria by suspected Iranian drones “were a reminder of the dangers that we face in the world, particularly in that region, from Iranian-backed militias and terrorists.”
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