U.S. lawmakers took an important step toward repealing the decades-old authorization of presidential war powers Wednesday, as an effort to reassert Congress’ role appears to have growing support.
By a vote of 13-8, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a repeal of the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force, or AUMFs, that would formally end the Gulf and Iraq wars.
“These two AUMFs are outdated, do not address current threats to U.S. interests and should not be used to justify large-scale use of military force. Their repeal is in the U.S. national interest and in the interest of our strategic partnership with Iraq and the region,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said in a statement.
Lawmakers have attempted in recent years to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs that were passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, giving U.S. presidents broad powers to conduct military operations without Congress’ constitutional right to approval.
To date, each attempt has failed amid criticism that repealing those authorizations endangers U.S. national security and U.S. forces abroad.
"Both Democrats and Republicans have come to the same conclusion: we need to put the Iraq war squarely behind us once and for all. And doing that means we should extinguish the legal authority that initiated the war to begin with," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor last week, praising the bipartisan effort.
In addition to repealing the AUMF authorizing the 2003 war in Iraq, the legislation under consideration this week in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would also repeal the 1991 AUMF that authorized President George Herbert Walker Bush to send forces into Iraq.
"Iraq is a strategic partner of the United States in advancing the security and stability of the Middle East. Sadly, according to these laws that are still on the books, Iraq is still technically an enemy of the United States," Republican Senator Todd Young, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement. "This inconsistency and inaccuracy should be corrected. Congress must do its job and take seriously the decision to not just commit America to war, but to affirmatively say that we are no longer at war."
Presidents of both parties have used the 2002 AUMF as justification for military actions far beyond the scope of its original purpose. In 2014, Democratic President Barack Obama used the AUMF to justify airstrikes without congressional approval against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Republican President Donald Trump used that same AUMF in 2020 to authorize the airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassim Suleimani in Iraq.
A broad range of U.S. lawmakers now support the legislation, arguing that Congress has neglected its constitutional responsibilities for several decades. The last time Congress formally used its powers to declare war was in 1942 against Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Since that time, it has granted U.S. presidents broader authority to conduct military operations.
"Congress is responsible for both declaring wars and ending them because decisions as important as whether or not to send our troops into harm's way warrant careful deliberation and consensus," said Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, another co-sponsor of the legislation. "The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs are no longer necessary, serve no operational purpose, and run the risk of potential misuse."
The legislation could come up for a full floor vote in the Democratic-majority Senate as early as next week. It is expected to have enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster.
The chances of a repeal in the Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives is much narrower. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said he will allow an open amendment process, meaning any Senate-passed repeal would likely be added on to the annual National Defense Authorization for consideration later this year.
The Democratic-majority House of Representatives repealed the 2002 AUMF by a vote of 268-161 in June 2021 but it failed to pass the Senate. The 2001 AUMF authorizing the U.S. war in Afghanistan also remains law, despite earlier attempts at a repeal.