WASHINGTON — In a surprise move, the House Appropriations Committee approved bill language to end the 2001 authorization of the use of military force and any operations conducted under it.
As the panel deliberated 2018 defense spending legislation on Thursday, members voted by voice to adopt an amendment to sunset the AUMF eight months after Congress passes the spending bill. The committee later voted to send the bill to the House floor.
The language is not law, and it faces a number of political and procedural hurdles, but it was a rare move forward on the issue, as no member of Congress wants to own a war. Republicans have been reluctant to check the commander in chief's war-making ability; Democrats have been reluctant to expand it.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee said the AUMF amendment "should have been ruled out of order" because the appropriations panel does not have jurisdiction.
"House Rules state that 'a provision changing existing law may not be reported in a general appropriation bill.' The Foreign Affairs Committee has sole jurisdiction over Authorizations for the Use of Military Force," said Foreign Affairs Committee Deputy Staff Director for Communications Cory Fritz.
Known for pressing this issue for years, Lee gained new traction on Thursday, arguing that with a new president sending new troops to Afghanistan and against the Islamic State, now is the time for a debate. There were audible gasps, then applause, when the amendment passed.
"The last two presidents have bombed the Middle East and Africa, and President [Donald] Trump is following down a similar path," Lee said. "The administration has authorized and launched airstrikes against Syria, sent more troops to fight ISIS and now wants to send thousands more troops to fight in Afghanistan."
House Defense Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, argued the amendment would cripple the ability of troops in ongoing and future operations against al-Qaida and its affiliates around the globe.
But several Republicans who likely disagreed with Lee on the scope of any new AUMF stood in support of her amendment. They argued American troops fighting overseas deserve a debate in Congress and its support.
Two of the Republicans were veterans: Reps. Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL from Virginia, and Chris Stewart of Utah, a former Air Force pilot.
The influential chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., backed Lee, arguing Congress must reassert its war-making authority under the Constitution. Congressional leaders of both parties have avoided taking responsibility for years, he said.
"We are at war against an enemy that did not exist in a place that we did not expect to fight," Cole said. "How an AUMF can be stretched 16 years, certainly before I was in Congress, is beyond me."
After the vote, Lee said in an interview the vote was "a major step in the right direction." She acknowledged the veterans' role in the vote.
"I have to salute them for having the courage to stand up and say what they said," Lee said. "Who better than veterans or service men and women to speak about the dangers and the role they have now. We have to make sure we do right by them and exercise our constitutional responsibilities."