WASHINGTON — The Democratic-led House, with the backing of President Joe Biden, is expected to approve legislation to repeal the 2002 authorization for use of military force in Iraq, a step supporters say is necessary to constrain presidential war powers even though it is unlikely to affect U.S. military operations around the world.
A vote on Thursday would come one day after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he intends to bring repeal legislation to the Senate floor this year.
"The Iraq War has been over for nearly a decade," Schumer said. "The authorization passed in 2002 is no longer necessary in 2021."
The White House said in a statement that it supports the House bill and stressed that no ongoing military activities are reliant upon the 2002 authorization.
The growing momentum behind the repeal measure follows years of debate over whether Congress has ceded too much of its war-making authority to the White House. Many lawmakers, particularly Democrats, say passage of the 2002 authorization, or AUMF, was a mistake, and some Republicans agree the authority should be taken off the books. Some lawmakers say the 2001 resolution to fight terrorism, passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, should be reexamined as well.
"Once we pass a repeal of the 2002 AUMF, we must keep up our fight to repeal the 2001 AUMF so that no future president has the unilateral power to plunge us into endless wars," said the House bill's sponsor, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Schumer said he wanted to be clear that legislation terminating the use of force in Iraq does not mean the U.S. is abandoning the country and the shared fight against the Islamic State group. He said the measure would eliminate the possibility of a future administration "reaching backing into the legal dustbin to use it as a justification for military adventurism."
He cited the Washington-directed drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani in January 2020 as an example.
The Trump administration said Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered many American troops and officials across the Middle East. The national security adviser at the time, Robert O'Brien, told reporters that President Donald Trump exercised America's right to self-defense and that the strike was a fully authorized action under the 2002 authorization to use military force.
"There is no good reason to allow this legal authority to persist in case another reckless commander in chief tries the same trick in the future," Schumer said.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday in a joint statement with Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind., that the committee would take up legislation to repeal not only the 2002 authorization, but also the 1991 authorization for use of force in Iraq, which remains on the books.
The 1991 authorization gave President George H.W. Bush the authority to use force against Iraq to enforce a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions passed in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The 2002 authorization was directed against the Saddam Hussein regime as "necessary and appropriate" to "defend U.S. national security against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and to "enforce all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."
"Repealing the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs will also send a clear diplomatic signal that the United States is no longer an adversary of Iraq, but a partner," Young said.
The Senate and House would have to work out any differences in their bills and vote on a final product before it can go to Biden's desk to be signed into law.
In the end, legislation terminating the 2002 authorization will need 60 votes in an evenly divided Senate to overcome any procedural hurdles. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he opposes the effort to terminate the authorization.
"We used it to get Soleimani and there might be another Soleimani out there," Inhofe said.
Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas will speak against the House bill Thursday. He said a serious reform effort, "which we all agree is needed," would have included discussions with national security leaders and a replacement to address the evolving war on terrorism.
"Democrats are playing politics with national security in an effort to taint one of President Trump's biggest national security successes," said McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.