The Senate has advanced a bill that would repeal decades-old authorizations for use of military force for the Iraq and Persian Gulf wars, in an overwhelming show of bipartisan support for legislation that the White House has signaled it will back.
The Senate voted 68 to 27 on Thursday to end debate on the bill, clearing the way for amendments and a final vote next week.
If signed into law, the bill would repeal the 1991 Gulf War authorization and the 2002 Iraq War authorization. A bipartisan group of lawmakers who support the legislation argue that it is necessary to prevent abuse by presidential administrations that have — and still could — use the old authorizations to launch unrelated combat operations without congressional approval.
“Repealing this AUMF [authorization for use of military force] is a necessary step towards putting the final remnants of the Iraq War squarely behind us,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Every year we leave this AUMF on the books is another year a future administration can abuse it. Congress, the rightful dispenser of war powers, cannot allow this to continue.”
The White House on Thursday indicated that President Biden would sign the bill if it reached his desk, noting that the United States conducts no ongoing military activities that rely primarily on either authorization.
“Repeal of these authorizations would have no impact on current U.S. military operations and would support this Administration’s commitment to a strong and comprehensive relationship with our Iraqi partners,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement. “Furthermore, President Biden remains committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.”
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), spearheaded the effort to repeal the authorizations of military force before the 20th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War this month. “The enemy against whom we declared war [in 2002] is no more,” Kaine told reporters Thursday. “There’s no reason, none, to have a war authorization against a strategic partner.”
Young said the effort to repeal the authorizations “transcends party politics … political philosophies or geography.” The anniversary is a time to honor the 1.5 million Americans who served during the Iraq War, as well as a time for “reflection on where war powers rest” in the United States, Kaine and Young wrote in a joint op-ed for Fox News that was published Tuesday.
“Those troops we honor this month may be surprised to know the legal authorization to wage war against Iraq is still on the books today, even though it serves no operational purpose and Iraq is now a strategic partner,” they wrote.
To give a sense of how outdated these authorizations are, Kaine and Young pointed out that only three of the 100 members of the current Senate were in office when the first Gulf War was authorized in 1991. Only a handful of members of the current Congress were in office when Operation Iraqi Freedom was authorized in 2002.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a combat veteran who lost both legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was attacked in the Iraq War, said service members deserve to know they have “the moral support and legal backing” of the nation when they go to war.
“Yet, for more than 20 years, Washington has failed to give them even that,” Duckworth said in a statement. “If we choose to send our finest into battle, then we need to debate and vote to do so based on current conditions.”
Nineteen Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the legislation the same week that both Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — both likely front-runners for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — expressed strong skepticism for the United States’ continued commitment to helping Ukraine fend off a Russian invasion.
The Senate Republicans who backed the repeal included anti-interventionist skeptics of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, such as Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), as well as moderate Republicans, such as Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who have been strongly supportive of Ukraine aid and America’s commitment to NATO.
However, Hawley said he did not see the high number of Republicans joining in Thursday’s vote as a sign that lawmakers in his party were beginning to turn away from traditional foreign policy views. Rather, he believed the Iraq and Gulf war authorizations were so outdated that their repeal brought together a broad coalition.
“These folks are on an island,” Hawley said of most moderate Republican senators, suggesting that their more hawkish foreign policy views are at odds with most of the GOP base. “But I just think that’s not where most Republican voters are.”
If the bill passes the Senate, its fate is uncertain in the House, though several Republican and Democratic House members have already publicly expressed support for the legislation. The conservative organization Heritage Action released a statement Thursday urging the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the bill.
Kaine noted that several of the bill’s co-sponsors in the House are not only Republicans but also GOP lawmakers who are close to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
“We know that the votes are there,” Kaine said. “The best thing we could do for the House is deliver a big bipartisan vote here.”
The House most recently voted to repeal the 2002 authorization for military force in Iraq in 2021, with all but one Democrat voting in support. Forty-nine Republicans also helped pass the bill then, many of whom were from the moderate and hard-right wings of the conference. A majority of Republicans opposed the measure, arguing at the time that ending existing AUMFs could weaken the United States’ posture in responding to current, more modern threats.
Now in the majority, House Republicans are still considering whether to put the Senate-approved legislation on the floor, according to aides familiar with foreign policy who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. They said hawkish Republicans are privately arguing against repeal without an updated replacement, which leadership is expected to take into consideration before announcing whether a vote could take place.
Marianna Sotomayor, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.