WASHINGTON: The Senate has a blueprint for an upcoming debate on fresh terms for the US military’s campaigns against extremist and terrorist groups after a bipartisan pair of senators on Monday released a long-awaited proposal to replace the current authorisations for use of military force with new legislation.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Republican-Tennessee, joined with Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat-Viginia, one of Congress’ most vocal advocates for a new AUMF, to draft the proposal authorising operations against al-Qaida, the Taliban, Daesh and affiliated groups. Their legislation would replace the 2001 and 2002 authorisations Congress approved to greenlight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — legislation many lawmakers argue has been inappropriately stretched and strained in the years since to cover military engagements that were never envisioned under the original authorisations.
“For too long, Congress has given Presidents a blank check to wage war,” Kaine said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the legislation. “Our proposal finally repeals those authorisations and makes Congress do its job by weighing in on where, when, and with who we are at war.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican-Arizona, a co-sponsor of the new proposal, pointed out that only 22 senators and fewer than 150 House members who voted to approve the 2001 AUMF are still in Congress today.
Congress must be notified
But Congress has faced pushback from successive administrations that have argued against any new AUMF that might restrict the president’s authority to conduct military operations as deemed necessary.
The new proposal appears to take some of that into consideration, authorising the executive branch “to use all necessary and appropriate force against Al Qaida, the Taliban, the Daesh, and designated associated forces”.
It does not cover operations against nation-states, such as recent strikes against targets in Syria to retaliate for an alleged chemical weapons attack.
The new legislation stipulates that the president must notify Congress about any new forces he designates as falling under the auspices of the AUMF within 48 hours of engaging them in hostilities. Congress would then have a 60-day window to object — or, if they miss that window, tacitly approve the designation.
The authorisation does not expire, as previous proposals endorsed by Kaine and Flake would have, forcing Congress to reassess its authorisation every few years. Instead, the legislation would give Congress the opportunity to review the authorisation every four years, by requiring the president to submit periodic proposals to Congress to amend its terms. In each case, Congress would also have 60 days to weigh in on the proposals.
In a statement, Corker said he hoped the proposed authorisation “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”.
But it is unlikely to get through the committee review process without considerable debate.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to take up the legislation the week of April 23, and already, senators on the panel have expressed scepticism that lawmakers can strike a middle ground on the issue. Senators in favour of restricting the president’s war-making authority have expressed particular concern about the lack of a sunset, or expiration, for the legislation.
“Without some meaningful way to cut off the AUMF, I think … it would be hard to get the necessary votes to get this to the finish line,” senior panel member Sen. Benjamin Cardin, Democrat-Maryland, said last week.
The proposal currently has six co-sponsors from the 21-member committee. Neither congressional leaders nor the administration have yet weighed in on, much less endorsed, the proposal.
But during his confirmation hearing last week, secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo — who agitated for a new AUMF while a member of Congress — offered his support for lawmakers’ efforts to produce a new authorisation.
“I do believe that it is important that we achieve that,” Pompeo told the Senate foreign relations panel. Though he said that he believed the current authorisation “works … I would welcome working alongside you to achieve, I think you used the term refresh, AUMF.”