Senate Democrats ramp up push to limit Biden’s war powers

Senate Democrats are ramping up their work on reining in President Biden’s war powers, after years of watching the fights stall out on Capitol Hill.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) told The Hill on Thursday that he will hold a vote on legislation from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs), both of which deal with Iraq. 

“My plan is whenever our next business meeting is,” Menendez said about putting the bill on the committee’s agenda for a vote.

That’s likely to be late this month or early next month. The committee already has a business meeting scheduled for next week — where they’ll handle two nominations — and haven’t announced their schedule for after that.

A complicating factor is the one-week Memorial Day recess, and Menendez didn’t commit that he would be able to get it done before the Senate leaves on May 28 for that break. A committee aide said that they were “on track to take up” the repeal of the two Iraq War authorizations, but that the schedule hadn’t been locked in yet.

Getting a committee vote on the two repeals would be a significant step forward for supporters of reining in a president’s war powers, with previous efforts stalling out in the Senate amid divisions not only between Republicans and Democrats but also Congress and the White House over war authority.

The House previously voted last year to repeal the 2002 authorization, but it went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate. The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted earlier this year to repeal the authorization.

Senate supporters believe they are likely to get at least the 60 votes needed to pass a repeal of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs.

But lawmakers acknowledge it will be trickier dealing with the 2001 authorization, which was passed by Congress days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The House voted in 2019 to repeal that authorization, but lawmakers are likely to focus their efforts on rewriting it rather than a straight repeal.

Menendez and Kaine held a phone call with the White House on Thursday, as they try to figure out what Biden’s red-lines are on rewriting the 2001 authorization. It was originally intended to fight al Qaeda, but it’s been stretched more broadly to greenlight operations against additional terrorism groups.

“We had a very positive discussion about the need to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs and agreed to start working together to revise the 2001 AUMF to narrow and tailor it to the challenges we face today and not twenty years ago,” Kaine said in a statement to The Hill. 

“The willingness of the Biden Administration to work with Congress on this issue is a breath of fresh air, and I anticipate meaningful action in this area,” he added.

Menendez stressed that the talks with the Biden administration on revising the 2001 AUMF are at the “beginning.”

“I want to start in getting an understanding of where the administration is at. What are their must haves, what are their flexibilities and then I would engage Republicans on it,” Menendez told The Hill. “But there’s no use if we’re going to have a veto pen coming.”

Tags 2001 AUMF 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force 2002 AUMF AUMF Bob Menendez Joe Biden Robert Menendez Tim Kaine Todd Young

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