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 MattisFormer Defense Secretary Mattis testifies in Theranos CEO trial 20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan MORE and Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump 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 CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her 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.
“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 FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots 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 KaineDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B 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 MurphyThis week: Democrats hit make-or-break moment for Biden Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B 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) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict 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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsManchin raises red flag on carbon tax Dems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict 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 CardinLawmakers say innovation, trade rules key to small business gains The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks House Democrat: Staff is all vaccinated 'because they don't like to be dead' MORE (Md.), however, believes a public hearing with Mattis and Tillerson “would be helpful.”