Corker promises panel will take up new war authorization ‘fairly soon’
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Monday committed to marking up a new war authorization after Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified before his committee on what they would want to see in it.
“The next step most logically is to attempt to move to a mark up and to actually try to pass an [authorization for the use of military force] out of committee,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Corker told reporters after the hearing with Mattis and Tillerson.
Asked when the mark up will be, Corker said he and ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are discussing it, but predicted it will be “fairly soon.”
“We want to discuss what provisions are most likely to make it through, but fairly soon,” he said. “I don’t know why we would wait. We had a great hearing. We had a good classified briefing. We all know the subject matter. If we’re ever going to attempt to do this, I don’t know why we would wait beyond the next several weeks.”
Mattis and Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Trump administration believes it has the legal authority it needs to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But, they said, if Congress were to pass a new one they want it to meet certain conditions. It should not have geographical limitations, sunset after a few years or have operational restrictions such as a ban on ground troops, they said.
Asked whether the committee will follow Mattis’s and Tillerson’s recommendations, Corker highlighted the AUMF proposal from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Their version would sunset after five years and require the administration to notify Congress if it sends troops to new countries not specifically named in the AUMF. It does not ban ground troops.
“I think they’ve done a pretty good job in laying that out,” Corker said of Kaine and Flake. “Members are going to want to express themselves, and Sen. Cardin and I are two members that are going to want to do that also. Again, I think that the only area to me that left somewhat of a debate was the associated forces issue and just whether an actual sunset versus reversing that out and giving Congress an ability to weigh in.”
The “associated forces” issue refers to what are considered associates of al Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban. Kaine and Flake’s bill defines it as any group that supports those three and is engaged in hostilities against the United States and requires congressional notification when the administration adds a group to the list.
During the hearing, Corker questioned the administration’s definition of associated forces.
“It does appear to be very broad and I would like — if it takes a classified response, we’ll be glad to take it,” he said.
After the hearing, Kaine and Flake took issue with the administration’s objections to their proposal.
“We do think a notice and opportunity to disapprove the listing [of] associated forces and geographic expansion is very important, and we really view the five-year period not as a termination,” Kaine said. “A five-year sunset is not an arbitrary termination of U.S. action any more than a one-year [National Defense Authorization Act] is an arbitrary termination of U.S. support for the military. It’s just a time so that we can come back and make sure we’re reviewing so that this does not remain the forever war that it is now.”
Flake added that most senators have never weighed in on the AUMF.
“We would never expect an administration to concede that they need a new AUMF because that would be an admission that they shouldn’t have been doing what we’ve been doing in the last 16 years,” Flake said. “Not one senator on that panel was here in 2001 to vote on the original AUMF. Not one. Seven of us were in the House when it was voted on, but only 23 members of the Senate as it currently is voted on the 2001 AUMF. So, we need to weigh in.”