Senate votes to repeal decades-old authorizations for Iraq, Gulf wars
March 29, 2023 Updated Wed., March 29, 2023 at 12:23 p.m.
Army Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty addresses U.S. 3rd Infantry Division troops at an encampment in Kuwait shortly before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. (William Branigin/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON - The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would repeal decades-old authorizations for use of military force for the Iraq and Persian Gulf wars, legislation the White House has signaled it will back.
The bill passed on a 66-30 vote with strong bipartisan support, as it did in procedural votes this month that brought together an unusual coalition of lawmakers.
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 new legislation argue that it is necessary to prevent abuse by presidential administrations that could use the old authorizations for use of military force, or AUMFs, to launch unrelated combat operations without congressional approval on where and when to send troops.
“The entire world has changed dramatically since 2002, and it’s time the laws on the books catch up with those changes. These AUMFs have outlived their use,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in floor remarks Wednesday. “War powers belong in the hands of Congress, and so we have an obligation to prevent future presidents from exploiting these AUMFs to bumble us into a new Middle East conflict.”
The Senate Republicans who joined Democrats to advance the bill included anti-interventionist skeptics of U.S. military aid to Ukraine like Josh Hawley (Mo.), as well as moderate Republicans, such as Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who have strongly supported Ukraine aid and America’s commitment to NATO.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has remained steadfastly opposed to the bill, though he was not present for Wednesday’s final vote on the legislation. McConnell has been absent since he fell and suffered a concussion and a broken rib at a private dinner early this month.
“I am opposed to Congress sunsetting any military force authorizations in the Middle East,” McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. “Our terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us. And when we deploy our servicemembers in harm’s way, we need to supply them with all the support and legal authorities that we can.”
In the House, several Republican and Democratic lawmakers have already publicly expressed support for the legislation. Both conservative and liberal organizations - from Heritage Action to Common Defense - have urged the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the bill.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said he would support repealing the 1991 and 2002 authorizations, as long as they did not touch a separate 2001 authorization enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks “to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” In an 86-9 vote, the Senate last week soundly rejected an amendment to the bill by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would have repealed the 2001 authorization.
“I still want to take actions if there are terrorists anywhere around the world,” McCarthy told reporters March 21 at a GOP retreat in Florida. “If we’re keeping that one  AUMF and removing another one, that’s personally where I am.”
The Senate also rejected last week an amendment by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) that would have provided for more targeted authority under the 2002 authorization.
The White House has 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.
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, noting that Iraq is now a “strategic partner,” not an “enemy” state as it was when the United States invaded the country in 2003.
Young has 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 published this month.
“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 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.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.