Kaine plans new push on war powers after Biden’s Syria strike
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a longtime advocate for giving Congress more power over a president’s ability to wage war unilaterally, says he will begin moving this week to repeal or amend the congressional authorizations used to justify numerous foreign military conflicts the past two decades.
Kaine, who expressed frustration that Congress didn’t get advanced notification before President Biden approved airstrikes in Syria last week, said lawmakers need to claw back some of their war powers authority. He plans to introduce a bipartisan resolution to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force against Iraq.
“I just strongly believe — and this goes back to the drafting of the Constitution and the earliest understandings of it — is that if a president is defending against an ongoing attack or imminent attack, the president does have some unilateral power and that’s good. But the idea of going on offense against groups, that’s traditionally where you ought to be coming to Congress,” he said.
The senator said he was “not notified at all” about the Syria strike and neither were “many of the people” in Congress who should have been consulted.
Kaine was also the sponsor of a joint resolution directing the removal of U.S. armed forces from hostilities against Iranian forces that have not been authorized by Congress, which former President Trump vetoed last year.
Biden last week ordered air strikes against Iranian-backed militias in Syria that hit “multiple facilities” and resulted in nearly two dozen deaths, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Pentagon described the attack as “proportionate” and “defensive” after U.S. forces came under rocket attack in Iraq, causing the death of a civilian contractor.
“This is the beginning of an administration, and it’s an administration where because President Biden was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that has jurisdiction over war powers issues, he should understand more than most, more than virtually anybody, that the Article I branch has got to have a role here, so I’m going to insist on it,” Kaine said, referring to the legislative branch.
Kaine said that on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday he’s “likely to introduce a bipartisan resolution with Republican colleagues that would repeal the two Iraq authorizations, Gulf War I and then the Iraq ’02.”
“Congress doesn’t repeal these things. We pass them and they’re just floating out there to be used — they can be used in mischievous ways to justify actions long after the original crisis has passed,” he said.
He said the first step is to “repeal unnecessary” authorizations for use of military force, such as the two resolutions Congress passed against Iraq, and to then work to update and reform the 2001 authorization for use of military force against “those nations, organizations or persons” who planned, authorized or aided the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The 2001 authorization was used to send U.S. troops into Afghanistan in October of that year and the military conflict against al Qaeda and the Taliban has spread to other countries such as Pakistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
Kaine says “step three” is to update the 1974 War Powers Act.
“This instance shows us the War Powers Act of 1974 just isn’t enough in terms of requiring consultation, so I have a bill to rewrite the War Powers Act that is a longer-term reform that I think we’ll also be introducing in the first of the year with Republican colleagues,” he said.
Kaine said he expects to speak to Biden administration officials Tuesday afternoon about last week’s strike.
“I think I’m going to be speaking with them later today,” he said.
Kaine said he got the same letter that all of his colleagues received two days later informing them of the strike.
“I also was like everybody in the country, I learned about it on the news. I’m on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committee[s]. I don’t think I should be learning about it that way,” he said.
“We’ll probably have some kind of briefing with the White House about this,” he said.