Friday, June 30, 2017

Now That They Know Who's in the White House

In a stunning move, the House Appropriations Committee today approved an amendment to the massive military spending bill offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D – CA). The amendment, passed in a voice vote, and would repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).


[The House Republican leadership is] going for a do-over on the amendment, insisting the vote was “out of order” and therefore didn’t really count.

This argument is based on the House Foreign Affairs Committee arguing that they have “sole jurisdiction” over all AUMFs, and that it was therefore impossible for the Appropriations Committee to repeal it, like the vote did.


The 2001 AUMF authorizes the president to wage war on those directly involved in 9/11, the interpretation of which at this point is that the president can declare wars pretty much at will and this amounts to Congressional authorization for all of them. This AUMF was used to justify the Afghan War, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the re-invasion of Iraq after that first war ended, and the invasion of Syria both to fight against ISIS, and potentially to pick a fight with the Syrian government. It was also presented as justification for the 2016 US intervention in Libya, though ironically not the US-led regime change war in Libya, which was itself “justified” by a vaguely worded UN resolution.

The fate of the provision is uncertain, and there’s more than one way that GOP leadership could strike it. Whatever happens, it represents a new frontier in Congress’ debates about presidential authority to wage war, and Minnesota members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are broadly supportive of the measure.

The language in the amendment, introduced by California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, is straightforward. It repeals the current AUMF, and the authorization would be void 240 days after the amendment is enacted into law.


There are important holdouts who could exercise their power to kill the amendment. Rep. Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, chairs the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, and she opposes it on the grounds that it would cripple U.S. efforts to combat terrorism.

The House Rules Committee could strike the amendment before the defense spending bill gets to the floor for a vote by deeming it “out of order,” if the GOP majority, which wields the rules panel’s power, decides to.


If the language does make it to the House floor, a lawmaker could file an amendment to strike Lee’s amendment, and members could vote in favor of that, or against the entire spending bill if there was enough support to maintain the current AUMF without any debate.

If the bill does pass with the AUMF language, the Senate would need to agree to it, too — another potential way it could fail, though bipartisan support exists in the upper chamber for a new AUMF. President Donald Trump could also veto the bill on those grounds, though the stakes would be high, since the amendment is attached to legislation that funds the entire U.S. military and Department of Defense.


Historically, the enthusiasm for a new AUMF or a declaration of war has been with anti-war progressives and constitutional conservatives, both wary of executive overreach. But recently, as U.S. targets have shifted to include ISIS and now the Syrian military, more voices on both sides have expressed a desire for at least a debate on a new set of parameters for U.S. military action.


Rep. Betty McCollum, who sits on this committee, said in a statement that she supported it “because it is long past time for Congress to have a debate on this critical issue. After 16 years, we owe it to the men and women serving in the military, and to all Americans, to have a full and complete discussion and a floor vote on a new authorization.”


Rep. Keith Ellison was more cynical. In a statement, he ventured that Republicans might be allowing the debate now because “they’re finally coming to terms with the fact that their president is an immature, disinterested, petulant child… even the most ideological among the GOP realize that giving a man like that the authority to make war when and where he pleases without congressional oversight is a bad idea.”

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

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