(CNSNews.com) – Despite a White House veto warning, 11 Republicans joined the Democratic majority in the House on Thursday voting to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) in Iraq.
They included Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of President Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress, who suggested on the House floor that doing so was in line with the president’s own “America first” inclinations and desire to end “forever” wars.
Other Republicans countered that repealing the 2002 authorization absent a replacement would tie the president’s hands at a time when Iran is seeking to harm U.S. interests and citizens in Iraq.
The majority of Republicans evidently agreed, with 164 voting against the measure authored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). It passed 236-166.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Gaetz said that if the U.S. was “unable to declare victory and bring our troops home at this time – after Saddam is dead, after his regime is evaporated, after ISIS has collapsed – then no war is ever truly winnable, and every authorization is an authorization for a forever war.”
“Let’s not hand the 21st century off to China as we toil in the Middle East,” he said.
“Instead of sending America’s bravest patriots to the blood-stained sands of the Middle East, let’s care for our veterans here at home. Instead of wasting American treasure bombing and rebuilding Iraq, let’s rebuild our own great nation. Let’s secure the U.S. border with Mexico before we send the next soldier, sailor … or Marine to secure Iraq’s border with Iran.”
“Instead of ill-fated adventurism, let’s put America first,” Gaetz continued. “Keeping U.S. forces in Iraq is not what President Trump wants. It’s not what the American people want. It’s not what the Iraq parliament wants. The best time to vote against the Iraq war would have been in 2002. And the second best time is today.”
Lee’s bill, along with another blocking funding for offensive military action against Iran, was attached as an amendment to unrelated legislation honoring U.S. merchant mariners for their service during World War II. That procedural move prevented Republicans from offering a “motion to recommit” – a last chance to debate on and amend a bill before it’s put to a final vote.
(The bill blocking funding, authored by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, passed 228-175.)
The AUMF was passed by Congress in October 2002, paving the way for the Bush administration’s war to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein the following March.
Almost a decade later, when President Obama pulled out the last U.S. troops from Iraq in December 2011, the AUMF remained on the books. It was later used, by both the Obama and Trump administrations, to justify military actions against ISIS.
This month the administration cited the AUMF as legal justification for the U.S. airstrike that killed the commander of Iran’s notorious Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad.
In a statement of policy opposing Lee’s bill, the White House said the AUMF has long been understood to authorize the use of force for addressing threats emanating from Iraq, including threats posed by ISIS and “threats directed by Iran.”
“Iran and Iran-sponsored proxies continue to plan and execute attacks against United States forces in Iraq,” it said, adding that the AUMF “provides critical authorities for the United States to defend itself and its partner forces” in Iraq.
“This bill is misguided, and its adoption by Congress would undermine the ability of the United States to protect American citizens whom Iran continues to seek to harm,” the statement said. Were the bill to be sent to the president’s desk, “his senior advisors would recommend he veto it.”
Proponents of repealing the AUMF argue that doing so will have no bearing on the separate 2001 AUMF, passed after 9/11. That AUMF remains the main statutory authority for military action against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS – which evolved from al Qaeda in Iraq.
“Not only is it [the 2002 AUMF] not needed for any current counterterrorism operations, but repealing it would have absolutely no impact on the administration’s ongoing military operations,” Lee said on Thursday.
Opposing its repeal, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said he supports a new, updated AUMF, but repealing the current one without a replacement “endangers not only the United States’ national security, but our coalition partners, most notably, Iraq.”
“Repealing the AUMF without a replacement shows ours soldiers, our partners, our adversaries, that we are undermining our important mission there to protect the homeland. That we are not committed to completing the mission. That we are not committed to a free and democratic Iraq.”
“The last time the United States abandoned Iraq under President Obama, ISIS reared its ugly head and formed the caliphate,” he added.
Joining Gaetz in supporting the repeal were Republican Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Michael Cloud (Texas), Warren Davidson (Ohio), Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Jamie Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Alex Mooney (W.Va.), Chip Roy (Texas), David Schweikert (Ariz.) and Fred Upton (Mich.).