House panel targets Trump's war powers in spending bill

House panel targets Trump's war powers in spending bill
© Greg Nash

A House panel approved a trio of amendments Tuesday aimed at reining in a president’s war making authority.

The House Appropriations Committee approved amendments from Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeIt's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Democrats introduce bill to repeal funding ban on abortions abroad Democrats hope clash resonates with key bloc: Women MORE (D-Calif.) to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF). The 2001 AUMF repeal was approved in a 30-22 vote, while the 2002 AUMF repeal was approved in a voice vote.

The panel also voted 30-22 to approve an amendment from Lee to ban funding for military action against Iran without explicit congressional approval.

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The amendments were approved as the committee considers its fiscal year 2021 defense spending bill.

Democrats have repeatedly pushed all three measures in recent months as tensions with Iran teetered on the brink of war while the Trump administration executes its so-called maximum pressure campaign against Tehran.

The committee has approved Lee’s repeal of the 2001 AUMF for the past couple years, but the amendment has not survived negotiations to make it into final spending bills signed into law.

The 2001 AUMF was approved days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to authorize military action against those responsible for the attacks.

It has since been used as legal justification for counterterrorism operations around the globe, with critics saying it has been inappropriately stretched beyond its original intent.

“With the 2001 AUMF still on the book in its current form, any administration, Democratic or Republican administration, can continue to rely on this blank check to wage endless wars,” said Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF in 2001. “It’s far past time to bring almost two decades -- two decades -- of nonstop war to an end.”

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Lawmakers in both parties have tried for years to repeal or replace the authorization, but have been unable to agree on exactly what a new AUMF should look like including whether it should expire after a certain amount of time or bar the use of ground troops.

Lee’s amendment would sunset the authorization after eight months with the intention of allowing time for a replacement to be crafted.

The 2002 AUMF, meanwhile, was approved to authorize the Iraq War. It was mostly recently used by the Trump administration as legal justification for its drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the beginning of the year.

The 2002 authorization has also been used occasionally for legal justification of counterterrorism activities, but to a lesser extent than the 2001 bill.

In the wake of the Soleimani strike, the House approved a standalone bill sponsored by Lee to repeal the 2002 AUMF, but the Senate did not take it up.

Opponents of Lee’s amendments argue repealing the authorizations without a replacement ready to enact would dangerously hamstring U.S. troops.

“There are few things more irresponsible than removing a critical legal authority for the U.S. military operations without having an agreement on what will replace it,” said Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerHelping our seniors before it's too late House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.

Congress has also repeatedly targeted Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran amid heightened tensions.

A standalone bill similar to Lee’s Tuesday amendment on Iran was approved by the House in January after the Soleimani strike.

Lawmakers also sent a resolution to Trump’s desk earlier this year that would have directed the president to “terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against” Iran unless Congress specifically authorizes it.

Trump vetoed the Iran war powers resolution, and the Senate was unable to override the veto.