California Democrat seeks to win fight on war powers

California Democrat seeks to win fight on war powers
© Greg Nash

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is fighting back at Republican efforts to quell her push for a speedy new war authorization bill.

Lee on Monday submitted two amendments to the House Rules Committee that would sunset the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and force a debate and vote on what she describes as “perpetual” U.S. wars.


The 2001 language is still used today to give the president authority on a range of military actions, including the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Lee has tried for years to have the 2001 AUMF revoked for a more tailored war authorization bill.

Lee’s first amendment would reinstate language — included but then stripped out of the House Appropriations defense spending bill — revoking the 2001 AUMF eight months after the bill is signed. Congress would have the time in between to vote on a replacement provision.

The second amendment would force an end to the 2001 AUMF by halting funding for it, also eight months after the bill's enactment. 

The House Rules Committee on Monday evening will open the debate for amendments for the “security-bus,” a package that combines four fiscal year 2018 spending bills, including defense.  

Lee’s previous amendment was stripped out of the House Appropriations bill last week by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), in what Lee called an “underhanded & undemocratic” move.

The measure was surprisingly backed by both Republicans and Democrats when it was voted into the House defense spending bill in late June. But GOP leaders were uncomfortable with ending the current AUMF without a guaranteed replacement.

“House Republican leadership has shown that they will stop at nothing to prevent a war debate,” Lee said in a statement. “By killing my amendment — without a vote, in the dark of night — Speaker Ryan has undermined the democratic process and forsaken our constitutional responsibilities.”

Ryan had said in June that the amendment was a “mistake.”

“There is a way to discuss this debate, but this [amendment], which endangers our national security, is not it,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told The Hill earlier this month.

Lee’s two new amendments are likely to face more pushback from GOP leaders, who have instead favored a provision from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). 

Cole’s amendment would not tamper with the existing AUMF, but would have the White House “provide to Congress a strategy and a budgetary analysis needed to defeat Al-Quaeda [sic], the Taliban, ISIS” and affiliated groups. The amendment also requires an assessment on whether the existing 2001 and 2002 AUMFs are adequate to accomplish such a strategy.

The language was included in the House’s annual $696.5 billion defense policy bill earlier this month. 

Rep. Chris StewartChris StewartTwo coaches charged with murder in basketball player's death after practice New mask guidelines trigger backlash It's time to call the 'Ghost Army' what they are: Heroes MORE (R-Utah), who backed Lee’s original amendment in June, told The Hill he couldn’t support the two new provisions, and would instead favor Cole’s approach. 

“I couldn’t support anything that would threaten AUMF funding or cut off funding without another policy in place,” said Stewart, an Air Force veteran.

“My desire is to have a conversation, have Congress do what they haven’t been willing to do, and that’s to say to our troops ‘we support what you’re doing, we recognize that the AUMF is probably outdated.’”

He also called the eight-month deadline for a new AUMF unacceptable.

“That’s unacceptable to me, it’s unacceptable to the Speaker in the sense we would be operating without an adequate AUMF,” Stewart said. “I don’t think we can do that. We’ve got to have this debate and then replace the existing AUMF with a new one at the same time.”

Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.), a former Navy SEAL who also backed Lee’s amendment during debate, was similarly hesitant to support Lee’s second try.

“My concern is that politics may take hold of this, which I think is irresponsible,” Taylor said. “I agree with leadership where they said they want to get input on this new strategy and then have the debate.”

But Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the initial AUMF in 2001, is undeterred. 

“Members of both parties want to see a debate and vote on America’s endless wars, as we saw last month when my 2001 AUMF repeal amendment passed the Appropriations Committee in a voice vote,” Lee said.