McCaul: Vote to Repeal AUMF a Bid to Undo One of Trump’s ‘Boldest Counterterrorism Successes’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 18, 2021 | 4:20am EDT
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. House on Thursday voted to repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War, with almost one-quarter of Republicans voting in favor.

Others argued that it should have been replaced by an updated one, dealing with today’s threats emanating from Iraq – primarily Iranian-sponsored proxies.

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

After Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020, the White House cited the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) as legal justification.

An image of Qassem Soleimani is seen on a television set in a Tehran store two days after he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad last January. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
An image of Qassem Soleimani is seen on a television set in a Tehran store two days after he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad last January. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

Congress passed the AUMF in October 2002, paving the way for the Bush administration’s war to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein the following March.

McCaul said while the AUMF was largely designed to target Saddam, “it also clearly addressed terrorist threats in and emanating from Iraq,” and past Republican and Democratic administrations had used it for that purpose.

Today, he said, those threats came from “the Iran-sponsored terrorist groups attacking our diplomats, our soldiers, our embassy, and our citizens.”

McCaul said he shared his colleagues desire to repeal both the 2002 AUMF and the separate 2001 AUMF, passed after the 9/11 terror attacks.

“But that must be part of a serious process to provide clear, updated authorities against the terrorists who still plot to kill Americans at home and abroad,” he argued.

The measure to scrap the AUMF, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), passed 268-161, with 49 Republicans voting in favor. A lone Democratic “no” came from Rep. Elaine Luria (Va.), a 20-year U.S. Navy veteran.

The House passed a similar measure last year, shortly after Soleimani was killed, but it failed to advance in the then GOP-controlled Senate.

This time, however, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged to bring legislation to the floor, saying Wednesday he supports repealing the authority as “the Iraq War’s been over for nearly a decade.”

The White House this week also threw its support behind repeal, saying in a statement of policy it “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.”

It said Biden was “committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats.”

Last year, after the House passed the measure the Trump White House declared its opposition, saying “Iran and Iran-sponsored proxies continue to plan and execute attacks against United States forces in Iraq,” and the AUMF “provides critical authorities for the United States to defend itself and its partner forces” in Iraq.

The Trump White House noted that three successive administrations had relied on the AUMF in responding to “threats to our national security, and that of our international partners.”

Both the Obama and Trump administrations used the AUMF to justify military actions against ISIS in Iraq – as well as in Syria, on the grounds the authority contained “no geographic limitation."

Last February, Biden ordered the bombing of an Iran-backed militia near the Syria-Iraq border after rocket attacks targeting U.S. troops in Iraq – to the dismay of progressive Democrats including Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.)

Although the administration did not rely the 2002 AUMF as justification – instead it cited Biden’s constitutional commander-in-chief authority and international law – Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) then introduced a resolution with bipartisan support to repeal both the 2002 AUMF and one passed by Congress in 1991, providing authorization for Operation Desert Storm.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to vote on that resolution next Tuesday.

The U.S. Constitution grants Congress, not the president, the power to declare war, and many lawmakers worry that too much war-making authority was delegated to the executive branch after 9/11.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a co-sponsor of Kaine’s resolution, has been introducing amendments since 2011 designed to reassert congressional authority over war powers.

At the time the Kaine resolution was introduced, Paul said the authorities granted after 9/11 “have been abused by presidents of both parties for years.”

“It’s long past time that we respect the balance of power and reassert Congress’ voice by forcing legislators to specifically approve or disapprove of the direction of our foreign policy,” he added.

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