The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that he’s increasingly concerned that the current war authorization is insufficient, but voiced pessimism that Congress will actually pass a new authorization.
“I am increasingly concerned about the one that we passed a few days after 9/11 being stretched to all of the circumstances that exist around the world,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said.
“I am also concerned about the special operators and others who are out doing those missions not having the clear backing of the constitutional process that they should have.”
Thornberry and Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOn steel and aluminum trade, Trumpism still rules Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon vows more airstrike transparency Schumer strikes deal with House, dropping push to link China, defense bills MORE (Wash.), the committee’s top Democrat, were speaking at a New America event on special operations policy.
The Trump administration relies on the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) for legal authority in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as the Obama administration did previously.
Some lawmakers have tried for years to pass a new AUMF, arguing the current one shouldn’t cover ISIS since the group did not exist when it was passed. But their efforts have repeatedly petered out amid deep divisions over sunset dates, ground troops and geographic constraints.
Still, momentum for a new AUMF has appeared to grow this year.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the issue with Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE and Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHillicon Valley — Blinken unveils new cyber bureau at State Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau Hillicon Valley — TikTok, Snapchat seek to distance themselves from Facebook MORE, while committee chairman Sen. 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.) has promised the panel will mark up an AUMF.
Thornberry has expressed support in the past for a new AUMF. But his comments Wednesday indicated a new level of concern about continuing to use the old one.
Still, he said he does not see Congress doing anything for the “foreseeable future.”
“Obviously, there are a lot of folks concerned about trying to pass one and then not being able to and then where does that leave us,” Thornberry continued.
Smith, meanwhile, said he does not think there is any possible proposal for a new AUMF that won’t meet fierce criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.
“We don’t have a consensus in the country about what we’re doing in all of these places,” Smith said. “If the country doesn’t understand what you’re fighting in the same way that we understood after 9/11 that, ‘OK, we’re going to get the guys who hit us,’ that’s where you run into a very tough legislative problem of how do you draft something. Because no matter what you draft, it is going to be criticized from both sides, both angles.”
Asked Tuesday for an update on his committee’s work on a new AUMF, Corker said he is still working to hash out details on a proposal that could pass but that he hopes to hold the markup before the end of the year.
“We’ve begun talking to committee members to see if we can get to a place where we can pass something. Those are happening daily,” Corker said. “If we get to a place where we think we can pass something with bipartisan support, we’re going to bring it up, and I hope that’s going to happen before the end of the year. So it’s moving along in a productive way.”