Defense

Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push

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A Senate panel is postponing for at least a couple of days consideration of a bill to repeal a pair of war authorizations related to Iraq after a group of Republicans on the committee pushed for a delay.

A Democratic Senate aide confirmed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will not take up the bill Tuesday as originally planned due to Republicans’ request to hold it over.

It is unclear when the bill will be taken up now, but the committee already had a tentative backup business meeting on its schedule for Thursday. 

The delay comes after five GOP senators asked for a public hearing with the secretaries of Defense and State as well as a classified briefing with those departments and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence before the panel votes on repealing 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF).

“We support Congress asserting its constitutional role and believe it is our duty to exercise our oversight responsibilities with respect to the Executive branch,” the GOP senators wrote Monday to the committee’s chairman, Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

“There are weighty questions, however, about the implications of repealing the 2002 AUMF, which should cause this committee to pause before we act,” they added. “We believe it is critical that every member of this committee fully understand the scope and use of existing legal authorities, the current threats to the U.S. and its allies and partners, and the implications for our national security and foreign policy.”

The letter was signed by GOP Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Bill Hagerty (Tenn.).

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had been scheduled to consider a bill Tuesday from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) that would repeal both the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq War and the 1991 AUMF for the Gulf War.

The Senate panel’s movement toward repealing the two AUMFs comes after the House last week voted to repeal the 2002 authorization.

The day before the House vote, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also announced his support for repealing the 2002 AUMF and vowed to hold a vote in his chamber this year.

Proponents of repealing the decades-old war authorizations see it as a first step in a broader effort to claw back presidential war powers, including replacing the 2001 AUMF that greenlighted the Afghanistan War and war on terror with a narrower authorization.

They also argue that the 2002 and 1991 authorizations long ago served their purposes and that keeping them on the books leaves them prone to abuse by the executive branch.

But opponents of repealing the 2002 measure argue doing so could hamstring U.S. counterterrorism missions, saying it should not be repealed until a replacement for the 2001 AUMF is agreed to.

The Biden administration has come out in support of scrapping the 2002 AUMF, with the White House saying in a statement last week that it backs repeal because “the United States has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis, and repeal of the 2002 AUMF would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.”

In their letter, though, the GOP senators pointed to the Trump administration’s opposition to repealing the 2002 AUMF. The Trump administration cited the 2002 AUMF as part of its legal justification in the 2020 drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The senators also cited the Obama administration’s use of the 2002 authorization as part of its legal justification to intervene against ISIS.

While the 2002 authorization has occasionally been cited to bolster legal arguments in the fight against ISIS, it has been secondary to the 2001 AUMF.

“We should fully evaluate the conditions on the ground, the implications of repealing the 2002 AUMF for our friends, and how adversaries—including ISIS and Iranian backed militia groups—would react,” the GOP senators wrote.

“The Senate and the American people should hear from the Biden administration regarding their legal analysis and their strategy to continue to protect the American people, our personnel, and our allies and partners in the region,” they added. “The administration should also make its case to Congress in a closed, classified setting to ensure every question is answered.”

Tags Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Marco Rubio Mike Rounds Mitt Romney Ron Johnson Tim Kaine Todd Young
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