The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to repeal the congressional authorizations for the use of force (AUMFs) in Iraq, marking a major milestone in the years-long battle to rein in presidential war powers.
“Passing this bill is an important step to prevent any president from using these authorizations as a blank check to send servicemembers into harm’s way,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a sponsor of the bill and long-time backer of repealing the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs, which authorized the first and second Gulf Wars, respectively.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told AP News that the repeal represents “a necessary step to putting these bitter conflicts squarely behind us.”
With Senate approval, experts say the repeal will almost certainly become law this year. The House is widely expected to pass a corresponding bill in the coming months, and President Joe Biden has promised to sign a repeal if it reaches his desk.
The bill passed in a 66-30 vote, with 18 Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues in voting for the repeal. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) applauded the bill’s passage in a statement Wednesday.
“War is sometimes necessary, but going to war should not be the decision of one person,” Paul wrote on Twitter. “The power to declare war belongs to the American people and their representatives.”
Opponents of the repeal alleged that it would hamper U.S. efforts to counter Iranian influence in Iraq. But New York Times reporter Aaron Blake noted yesterday that such arguments are evidence of “mission creep” given that the AUMF specifically authorizes a response to threats emanating from Iraq — not its neighbors in Iran.
“[I]t’s now Congress’s default approach to outsource to the executive branch the difficult decisions involved in its constitutional war powers,” Blake wrote.
War powers advocates cheered the bill’s passage as a major step toward reasserting lawmakers’ role in decisions about foreign military interventions.
“Today’s vote begins the process of accountability the war deserved long ago,” Eric Eikenberry of Win Without War wrote in a statement.
Concerned Veterans for America called the vote a "strong first step" in turning the page on endless wars in the Middle East. "Repealing these AUMFs also removes the possibility that they might be abused in the future to take America to war again without congressional approval," said CVA Executive Director Russ Duerstine.
Notably, the Senate voted 86-9 to shoot down an amendment put forth by Sen. Paul that would have also repealed the 2001 AUMF, passed just days after the September 11 attacks. Critics say that authorization is overly vague and easily abused by the executive branch. Recent administrations have cited it to justify America’s continued military presence in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and numerous other countries.