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House votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war powers

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The Hill
The Hill
 2021-06-17
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The House on Thursday voted to repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War in what lawmakers are framing as a first step in a broader effort to claw back presidential war powers.

The House voted largely along party lines, 268-161, to scrap the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), with supporters of the repeal arguing the nearly 20-year-old law is outdated and no longer necessary.

Only one Democrat, Rep. Elaine Luria (Va.), voted against scrapping the authorization, while 49 GOP lawmakers did vote to repeal it.

The war authorization was initially passed by Congress to allow the U.S military to go after former President Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, though it has occasionally been used to bolster the legal rationale for other military engagements in recent years.

“Repeal can prevent our country from entering another protected protracted engagement under this outdated authority,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the repeal bill, said Thursday. “We can't afford to leave this in place indefinitely. For two decades, it has been in place. This is our opportunity to restore our constitutional role.”

The House previously voted to repeal the 2002 AUMF last congressional session, but the effort went nowhere in the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Republicans.

This time, though, momentum appears to be building toward getting the repeal to the president’s desk.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his support for repealing the 2002 AUMF and vowed to hold a vote in his chamber this year.

The Biden administration has also come out in support of repealing the 2002 AUMF, with the White House saying in a statement this week it backs Lee’s bill because “the United States has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis, and repeal of the 2002 AUMF would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.”

Still, Republicans argued that taking the 2002 AUMF off the books would hamstring U.S. counterterrorism missions, saying it should not be repealed until a replacement for the 2001 AUMF is agreed to.

The 2002 authorization has occasionally been cited to bolster legal arguments in the fight against ISIS, though the main authorization cited for that war has been the 2001 AUMF.

The Trump administration also cited the 2002 AUMF in part for its legal justification in the 2020 drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“This feels like yet another political effort to undo one of President Trump ’s boldest counterterrorism successes,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said of Thursday’s vote.

While most Republicans continued to oppose scrapping the authorization, more voted to do so Thursday than the last time repeal was voted on during the Trump administration. In the 2020 vote, 11 Republicans voted to repeal to 2002 measure.

Efforts to repeal the 2002 AUMF were revived this year amid a push to rein in presidential war powers after President Biden ordered an airstrike on Iran-backed militias in Syria in February in retaliation for militia attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq.

Supporters of repealing the 2002 authorization see it as a first step as they work to replace the broader 2001 AUMF, which authorized military action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks but has since been used to justify military action in more than a dozen countries against disparate terrorist groups.

“Our vote this morning to repeal the 2002 AUMF is not about relitigating our past. Rather, repealing this outdated authorization is about planning strategically for our future,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said. “It is about Congress reclaiming its constitutional obligation to weigh in on matters of war and peace.”

Repealing the 2002 bill is expected to be the easy part of the effort, though, as agreement on what to replace the 2001 authorization with remains elusive.

While there is bipartisan agreement the 2001 AUMF is outdated, past congressional efforts on a replacement have all stalled amid partisan fights over the details, including whether to impose limits on time, geography and types of force.

In a boost for those who want to curb presidential war powers, the Biden administration has said it is willing to work with Congress on a more narrow war authorization, though there will still likely be wrangling over the details.

“In working with the Congress on repealing and replacing other existing authorizations of military force, the administration seeks to ensure that the Congress has a clear and thorough understanding of the effect of any such action and of the threats facing U.S. forces, personnel and interests around the world,” the White House said in its statement this week. “As the administration works with the Congress to reform AUMFs, it will be critical to maintain the clear authority to address threats to the United States’ national interests with appropriately decisive and effective military action.”

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