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Senators Make Another Bid to Authorize War Against ISIS

Flake and Kaine have tried before

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is introducing another proposal for authorizing the use of military force against ISIS. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is introducing another proposal for authorizing the use of military force against ISIS. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“When I voted in 2001 to authorize military force against the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks, I had no idea I would be authorizing armed conflict for more than fifteen years, and counting.”

That’s what Sen. Jeff Flake said Thursday. The Arizona Republican was announcing yet another effort with Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, to get Congress to go on record to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State and other terror groups.

“It is past time for Congress to voice its support for the war against ISIS, something many military officers and diplomats working to defeat ISIS have advocated for, and for Congress to reassert some of the authority it has abdicated over the years,” Flake said in a statement.

Kaine, the Democratic nominee for vice president last year, has been working with Flake on authorizations for use of military force, or AUMFs, for several years. He had said President Barack Obamaneeded congressional approval to combat ISIS.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said Thursday that “it would be my hope … that we would also during this next work period begin to take up the AUMF.”

The Tennessee Republican praised the effort by Flake and Kaine.

“It’s the best of the U.S. Senate working in a bipartisan way to come up with something that may in fact work,” Corker said, speaking at a committee markup Thursday morning.

Corker later told reporters that he recently had dinner with Kaine about two weeks ago and discussed the measure.

“We thought last year was not the right time. I think that was the right call, but I think we’re in a place now where it’s time to take it up, and I would hope to do so,” Corker said. “I hope the conditions are going to be right also with the administration hoping to complete their ISIS strategy, to do so in the next work period.”

Separately, Corker said he was under the impression that the Iran sanctions measure advanced by his committee Thursday morning would be on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda for the upcoming work period.

Like Obama, President Donald Trump is continuing to pursue the fight against terrorist entities using authorities granted in 2001 and 2002 to take military action against al-Qaida, as well as for the military action against Iraq.

In April, senators emerged from a closed briefing regarding military action against Syria wanting the Trump administration to provide a proposal for any additional use of force authorization. But even then, lawmakers conceded there is no good legal remedy for Congress to assert its will.

“We have the War Powers Act,” Foreign Relations ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland said at the time. “There’s no way of enforcing the War Powers Act, but we do have the War Powers Act.”

The legislation Flake and Kaine are introducing Thursday would, according to a summary provided to CQ Roll Call, “repeal and replace” the AUMFs from the George W. Bush administration. The new authorization would cover ISIS, al-Qaida and the Taliban.

It would set up a new process to allow Congress to weigh in more expeditiously when the fight against ISIS, al-Qaida and the Taliban expands beyond an identified set of countries (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Somalia).

The bill also would allow for better oversight of what exactly constitutes being an affiliate or an associate of one of the three groups.

“Most members of Congress were not yet elected when the debate and vote on the 2001 AUMF took place and it is time for this Congress to fulfill its duty by putting its stamp on the current fight and to reaffirm its commitment to defeating ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban,” Kaine said in a statement. “I’m proud to have Senator Flake as a partner on this issue as we share this AUMF with our colleagues in hopes it presents a bipartisan way forward on this issue.”

Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.

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