Trump admin not opposed to new war authorization

Trump admin not opposed to new war authorization
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Lawmakers are getting mixed signals from the Trump administration on war authorization.

On Wednesday, top Trump administration officials indicated that there was no need for a new war authorization bill but would not oppose the creation of one.  

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless MORE and Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonBolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration Bolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration Trump's nastiest break-ups: A look at the president's most fiery feuds MORE briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a closed-door meeting to discuss the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The 2001 AUMF provides legal justification to fight against al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but a group of lawmakers is now pushing for a more tailored war authorization bill, arguing the old one should no longer apply.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPress: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters after the meeting that he expects the administration to continue working with the committee on the issue despite telling him it’s “not seeking” a new AUMF.

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“They wouldn’t be opposed to one that’s written in the appropriate way,” Corker said. “Secretary Mattis was very helpful in talking through some of the caveats that they have. I’m confident they’ll work with us. They’re not seeking one, but I think they saw that there’s an effort to try to do something.”

Mattis in March endorsed a new AUMF while speaking at a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing, criticizing lawmakers for not stepping in sooner to create an updated authorization.

But the administration earlier on Wednesday contradicted that message by sending a letter to Corker asserting the Trump administration “is not seeking revisions to the 2001 AUMF or additional authorizations to use force.”

The country already has “sufficient legal authority” to prosecute the war against ISIS, wrote Charles Faulkner of the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeDemocrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Ariz.) emerged from the briefing more confident in the push for a new AUMF.

“I feel, frankly, better about it now than I did before, and I felt good going in,” he said. 

Flake also brushed off the State Department letter. For one, it’s similar to what the Obama administration’s stance on the issue was, he said. And it’s unlikely an administration would admit it doesn’t have the proper legal authorities to fight an ongoing war, he added.

“But Secretary Mattis is on record publicly saying it would be useful to have that, and that’s what we’ve always said,” he said. “Congress and the administration on matters like this should speak with one voice.”

Flake and Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE (D-Va.) have crafted legislation to repeal the 2001 AUMF, replacing it with a more specific bill to target ISIS that would automatically sunset after five years. Congress would be able to expedite reauthorization before it expires.

Kaine was also positive after the meeting, telling reporters it was “very productive” despite a difference in opinions.  

“The administration believes, as did the previous administration, that they have the legal authority to conduct the military operations they’re conducting,” Kaine said. “That’s nothing new, but the administration [also] believes ... 16 years after the 9/11 authorization it would be a good idea to do it again.”

Kaine added that the secretaries were “very open to the idea of working on an authorization, not because they feel like they legally have to have it, but they think for the mission itself it would good to have Congress engaged with the fight.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle appear to have taken different meanings from the conversation.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said he thinks the administration “has no choice” but to work with Congress on the AUMF, even as his colleague Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Health Care: Trump officials defend changes to family planning program | Senators unveil bipartisan package on health costs | Democrats pass T spending bill with HHS funds Overnight Health Care: Trump officials defend changes to family planning program | Senators unveil bipartisan package on health costs | Democrats pass T spending bill with HHS funds Chris Murphy may oppose bipartisan health bill unless it addresses ObamaCare 'sabotage' MORE (D-Conn.) expressed concerns that there was “an unbridgeable difference between the administration and many members of this committee.”

“They don’t believe they need an authorization, many of us believe they do,” Murphy told reporters. “They expressed a willingness to work on an authorization and I take them at their word. I’m not sure that we can bridge all the differences that we have in the committee on what that authorization would look like.”

Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.) echoed that sentiment, noting that the secretaries were open to a new AUMF, but under terms and conditions that would be so open-ended “that would be very difficult to support.”

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion MORE (D-Del.) said Mattis and Tillerson “did not specifically reject” Flake and Kaine’s AUMF legislation, but also said, “I’m not sure that we’ll be able to get there.”

There also appeared to be some confusion as to how the conversation would continue.

“I don’t know if we need a public [AUMF] hearing or not,” Corker said.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinProposed bipartisan kidney legislation takes on kidney disease epidemic in America Lawmakers raise security concerns about China building NYC subway cars House votes to boost retirement savings MORE (Md.), however, believes a public hearing with Mattis and Tillerson “would be helpful.”