WASHINGTON ― A bipartisan group of senators is taking another crack at making Congress do its job and vote to authorize wars.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Monday unveiled a new authorization for use of military force, or AUMF, that redefines the limits on President Donald Trump’s ability to attack non-state terrorist groups around the world. This is not related to Trump’s recent strikes in Syria.
Their proposal does four things.
Most notably, it expands Trump’s authority to take military action against al Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban, wherever they may be geographically.
It repeals a 2002 AUMF that authorized military action in Iraq and a sweeping 2001 AUMF that allowed military action against al Qaeda.
It requires the president to report to Congress any time he sends new forces into a new country. The president has 48 hours to notify Congress, and lawmakers have 60 days to pass legislation to remove that authority if they don’t agree. If lawmakers don’t take any action, the existing authorities stay in place.
Finally, every four years, it requires the president to submit to Congress a plan to repeal, modify or keep the authorizations. If Congress does nothing within 60 days, the existing AUMFs stay in place.
“For too long, Congress has given Presidents a blank check to wage war,” Kaine said in a statement. “We’ve let the 9/11 and Iraq War authorizations get stretched to justify wars against multiple terrorist groups in over a dozen countries, from Niger to the Philippines. Our proposal finally repeals those authorizations and makes Congress do its job by weighing in on where, when, and with who we are at war.”
Here’s a copy of the bill.
Co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has scheduled a hearing to debate, amend and vote on his legislation next week.
“There have been a number of efforts over the years to update these authorities,” he said in a statement. “I am pleased that we have reached an agreement on a product for the committee to consider and that I hope will ultimately strike an appropriate balance of ensuring the administration has the flexibility necessary to win this fight while strengthening the rightful and necessary role of Congress.”
The senators get points for pushing an issue that Congress keeps putting off. But they’ve got serious obstacles ahead.
Republicans, who typically want to give the president as much power as possible to take military action, have reasons to get on board. But this isn’t going to go over well with Democrats who have been pushing for tighter restrictions on the president’s ability to start wars, whether it’s by imposing geographic limits or on the number of U.S. troops being deployed. They also won’t like that this AUMF doesn’t expire and doesn’t require Congress to vote on it every four years.
Then there’s the issue of Hill leaders letting the bill get a floor vote at all. Congress is constitutionally required to authorize any sustained military action, but House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have denied war authorization votes for years, for no real reason other than shielding their party members from a politically tough vote.
Congress’ inaction has infuriated a relatively small but bipartisan group of lawmakers who argue they are shirking their role in war-making decisions and letting presidents abuse the never-expired 2001 AUMF.
President Barack Obama stretched the legal limits of the 2001 authorization to unilaterally bomb ISIS, arguing it is an offshoot of al Qaeda. And just last week, Speaker Ryan said Trump could use the 17-year-old war authorization to bomb the Syrian government, which has nothing to do with al Qaeda.
Kaine, who has been a leading voice on the need for a new AUMF for years, said holding a war authorization vote really comes down to lawmakers having a spine or not.
“This is personal to me as the father of a Marine and someone who represents a state so closely connected to the military,” he said. “Congress has painstakingly avoided this debate for years because war votes aren’t easy. But if we’re going to ask our troops to risk their lives in support of a mission, then we need to at least have the courage to show we are behind them.”