Potentially Massive Change in War Powers

[Ed. Note: I’m stepping a little out of my normal practice of reviewing and commenting only on official executive actions with this post, because when I saw the brief news report (see link below) it occurred to me if the bill passes as amended by the House Appropriations Committee, this president will have much less freedom to “authorize and fight wars” than either of his two most recent predecessors.]

What am I talking about?

Today, according to a report published by The Week (posted 12:30 p.m. ET), the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill of 2017 proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee, CA, that repeals the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) (Public Law 107-40) that was passed by Congress in the immediate wake of September 11, 2001. That law has been the basis for all war actions since it was enacted – used by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama to execute military actions in several places around the world. In effect, it was congressional authorization to use military force against terrorist activities, a.k.a. the “War on Terror”. Both the original law and the current amendment (photo of it is in The Week article cited above) are quite brief, so it does not take long to see what this is about.

Based on a Tweet by Rep. Lee, she appeared to be surprised it passed the full committee. The bill, along with this amendment, will be debated openly on the floor of the House of Representatives. Just getting this to the full House is a major change with enormous consequences.

At the time the AUMF passed, I believed it was a colossal overreaction to the 9-11 events and I am extremely pleased that at least the House Appropriations Committee is ready to reclaim the power of Congress to declare war instead of abdicating it to the president. It is long overdue to require a full, congressional debate before sending military forces into any kind of war.

The prospect of this law being repealed is so unexpected I’m having trouble wrapping my head around what the full ramifications would be.

What are the chances it will pass the full House? Will the Senate go along? If it reaches the president’s desk, will he veto the whole defense funding package just to keep that provision?

What precipitated the Appropriations Committee action to approve the repeal amendment? According to my count, the committee membership has 30 Republicans and 22 Democrats, (and of course, chaired by a Republican) which means the Republicans could easily have kept the amendment from passing. Does this mean even Republicans are concerned about this president having that level of power? Does the escalation in Syria have anything to do with this committee vote?

So far, I have not found online a breakdown of who on the committee voted for/against the amendment, but I hope it will be available at some point. It would be very interesting to see just who supports the repeal.

Needless to say, I will be watching for other news reports about this important amendment and its progress through the bill’s approval process.

Update June 30, 2017:

Two items to add: 1) Representative Lee was the only person to vote against the original AUMF in 2001, and 2) the vote by the Appropriations Committee yesterday was a voice vote and it passed nearly unanimously. From the video clip I saw of the vote, it sounded like one faint no vote voiced.

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