Over two decades after Congress approved the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Senate voted 66-30 to repeal the law that authorized military operations (AUMFs).
Eighteen Republican Senators voted along with the Democrats to repeal the October 2022 authorization to use military force in Iraq, along with repealing a measure that cleared the way for the Gulf War in 1991. The legislation now heads to Congress, where it has bipartisan support. However, getting a vote isn’t guaranteed because of the opposition from GOP representatives.
The Biden administration says it supports the effort for repeal and maintains the two authorizations the Senate voted on Wednesday will not impact any ongoing overseas missions.
Congressional advocates say repealing the open-ended authorizations is needed to reflect the current Iraqi government’s standing as a partner in the region and to assure the executive branch is seeking congressional approval before sending American troops into combat overseas.
“The United States, Iraq, the world has changed dramatically since 2002, and it’s time the laws on the books catch up with those changes,” said Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a speech before the vote on Wednesday.
“Every year we keep these AUMFs on the books is another chance for a future administration to abuse them,” said Schumer.
Opponents argue that revoking the 1991 and 2002 authorizations would send a message of weakness, specifically after the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan nearly two years ago.
“Our terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us,” said GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement. “When we deploy our service members in harm’s way, we need to supply them with all the support and legal authorities that we can.” McConnell was not present for the vote as he continues to recover from a fall earlier in the month.
Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy remains uncommitted to bringing the legislation passed by the Senate to the floor, saying he would first send it to the appropriate committees for review.
Legislation revoking the 2002 authorization for war in Iraq passed the House last year while it was in Democratic control; however, it didn’t come up for a vote in the Senate.
“I think it has a good chance of getting through the committee and getting to the floor, but don’t preconceive any idea,” said McCarthy.
Obama, Bush, and Trump administrations have all cited the 2002 authorization
The Obama, Bush, and Trump administrations all cited the 2002 authorization, along with the more frequently used 2001 authorization passed by Congress following the 9/11 terrorist attacks — to justify military operations in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and other militant groups.
Former President Trump’s administration pointed to the 2002 AUMF to justify the 2020 killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani.
Last week President Joe Biden’s administration authorized airstrikes in Syria against Iranian-backed militias after a drone struck a base used by personnel from the U.S. in the northeast portion of the country. A spokeswoman said the president did not rely on congressional authorizations to justify the strikes.
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress, but not the president, the authorization to declare war. The country has not made a formal war declaration since World War II. Today, America maintains a small force in Iraq but does not have any continuing military activities that solely rely on the 2002 authorization.
Other GOP senators worry that the Senate vote could send a dangerous message to Iran and other adversaries of democracy by attempting to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Iraq authorizations without making a replacement focused against Iranian-backed militias.
“Congress must be clear in telling the Iranian proxies that you attack American forces at your own peril,” said GOP Senator Lindsey Graham. “Instead, the actions taking place in the Senate — to our enemies at least — are the sounds of retreat.”
The legislation will likely pass the House if Republican leaders are allowed to vote. Two years ago, 49 GOP representatives in the House, under Democrat control, voted to repeal the authorization in a vote that ended up 268-161, less than half the Republican conferences.