WASHINGTON ― The House Appropriations Committee approved separate measures to end the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations, which underpin U.S. counterterror operations ― the latest attempt by lawmakers to curb President Donald Trump’s war-making powers.
At the panel’s deliberations on the fiscal 2021 defense spending bill on Tuesday, members voted on two amendments to the panel’s proposed 2021 defense spending bill from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
The panel first voted along party lines, 30-22, to pass an amendment to sunset the 2001 authorization for use of military force within eight months, and then by voice vote, to repeal the 2002 AUMF. A third Lee amendment, also approved 30-22, would bar the use of military force in or against Iran, with certain exceptions.
The committee subsequently took a party line vote to send the bill, which would appropriate $694.6 billion for the Pentagon, to the House floor.
The amendments are aimed at reclaiming congressional war powers by revoking measures three successive presidents have used to justify an array of operations in foreign countries without securing prior approval from the legislative branch. They likely set up a fight with the White House and the Senate’s Republican leaders.
Lee, an antiwar advocate, has pressed the issue for years and said Tuesday that under the 2001 authorization, “any administration, Democratic or Republican administration, can continue to rely on this blank check to wage endless wars. ... It’s far past time to bring almost two decades of nonstop war to an end.”
Lee said that eight months was “plenty of time” for Congress to draft and pass a replacement for the 2001 AUMF. The 2002 AUMF, enacted to go to war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, became obsolete when U.S. troops withdrew from the country in 2011, Lee said.
The Trump administration, she said, has mulled inappropriately stretching the authorizations to fight Iran. In January, the House voted to repeal the 2002 AUMF and to bar Trump from using federal funds to mount an unauthorized strike against Tehran ― which Trump threatened to veto.
Trump has called for an end to U.S. entanglements abroad, drawn down thousands of U.S. troops, and struck a deal with the Taliban intended to pave the way for a complete exit and an end to the 19-year conflict. For that, he’s weathered criticism from lawmakers of both parties that the Afghanistan withdrawal appears hasty.
At Tuesday’s markup, several of the panel’s Republican leaders vocally opposed Lee’s two amendments, including House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas. They said U.S. troops risk losing legal authority for ongoing counterterror operations against valid threats to the country.
“There are few things more irresponsible than removing a critical legal authority for U.S. military operations without having an agreement on what would replace it,” Granger said.
She called the 2001 AUMF measure a “poison pill” for the larger defense spending bill, and Republicans in committee later voted against the bill. Republican panel leaders have said more broadly that partisan policy provisions in the bill will have to be dropped in negotiations with the White House and Republican Senate leaders.
One senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said he was working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to draft a replacement for the 2001 AUMF and could not support Lee on Tuesday.
“To say we ought to be able to get it done in 240 days is a nice point to make, but the problem is we haven’t been able to get it done in 18 years,” Cole said. “To believe that we will magically find the solution in 240 days I think flies in the face of our own hard experience.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.