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Bill would honor Rep. Walter Jones by repealing AUMF

Late North Carolina Republican was among the fiercest critics of 2001 military force authorization

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., motions to an aide during a news conference in 2011 to announce legislation he co-sponsored calling for an exit strategy from Afghanistan. (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., motions to an aide during a news conference in 2011 to announce legislation he co-sponsored calling for an exit strategy from Afghanistan. (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)

A new bill named after the late Rep. Walter B. Jones, who left behind a legacy of dogged opposition to war, would repeal the military force authorization passed in the days after the 9/11 attacks.

Colleagues and constituents have heaped praise on the longtime North Carolina Republican, who died Sunday on his 76th birthday and whose funeral will be held Thursday at his parish church in Greenville.

Jones was among the fiercest opponents of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which critics say functions like a blank check for endless war and radically warps the balance of powers in favor of the commander in chief.

California Democratic Rep. John Garamendi introduced the “Walter B. Jones Restoring Power to Congress Act” last week, just days before the death. Jones is listed as a co-sponsor.

From the archives: Walter Jones’ salute to the fallen

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The AUMF passed in 2001 permits military strikes against any nation, person or organization connected to the 9/11 attackers “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” But it has been stretched far beyond that purpose, dramatically eroding congressional oversight of the military.

The new bill would revoke the 2001 AUMF one year after the act was signed into law. The legislation grew out of Garamendi’s work with Jones on the House Armed Services Committee. When he talks about the planning around the bill, the California Democrat uses the word “we.”

“We are introducing the resolution to reestablish Congress’ power and to force a debate about America’s involvement in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania … Did I miss something? Oh yes, and the Philippines,” Garamendi said, seeming to include his former colleague in an interview this week.

“We chose one year so that Congress would have sufficient time to thoroughly debate the involvement of our military in various countries of the world,” he continued.

For the first time in at least a decade, Congress will soon debate the full scope of U.S. military interventions.

Garamendi doesn’t relish using the term “repeal and replace” — the term Republicans have used to describe their battle to undo the Affordable Care Act — but it’s a useful turn of phrase to describe the effort to retire the AUMF and pass new, more narrow authorizations.

California Rep. Barbara Lee, the sole dissenting vote when Congress approved the AUMF, has led that bipartisan push.

“I’m encouraged to see the growing momentum to repeal the 2001 AUMF. As I feared back in 2001, this authorization has become a blank check for any president to wage war anywhere, in perpetuity, without the input of Congress,” Lee said in a statement. “This legislation is a fitting tribute to Congressman Jones’ work – over many years – to force Congress live up to its constitutional duty on matters of war and peace.”

Repealing the AUMF in one year’s time in effect opens the door to debating the U.S. military’s presence around the world in committee hearings and on the House floor. 

“The Constitution is very, very clear that the authority to enter into war is one that resides with 535 members of Congress,” Garamendi said.

But over the past 18 years, a single 60-word sentence at the heart of the AUMF has been wielded by three presidents — Bush, Obama and Trump — to justify military action in 14 separate countries, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“The result of all of this expansion of presidential power is that we’ve been drawn into conflicts where our normal and appropriate policies concerning the conflict of war are ignored,” Garamendi said.

In particular, Garamendi cited U.S. participation in a military campaign led by Saudi Arabia that has starved thousands of children, possibly many more, in Yemen. 

Jones opposed the war in Yemen.

From 2003 until illness caused him to begin missing votes in 2018, Jones was one of the most persistent voices against U.S. military interventions in Congress. Once a hawkish supporter of the Iraq War best known for directing House cafeterias to rename French fries “freedom fries,” Jones became haunted by the casualties.

Photos of Marines who were based at a large military installation in his district and who were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, most the young faces of men in their teens and 20s, line the hallway outside his congressional office.

For years the North Carolina Republican unsuccessfully pushed his own party’s leadership to allow a committee hearing or a floor debate about the AUMF.

During Republicans control of the House from 2009 to 2019, no hearings were held on the scope of U.S. military interventions in the Armed Services Committee or Foreign Affairs Committee.

An effort to repeal the AUMF pushed by Lee was approved by the Appropriations Committee as recently as 2018, but was stymied by the House Rules Committee under Republican leadership.

At the time, a spokesman for then-Speaker Paul Ryan said the measure would “endanger national security” and claimed it “would have would have left service members without an authorization to defeat al-Qaeda and ISIS and could have led to the release of prisoners at Guantanamo.”

“Now things are different,” Garamendi said.

With Democrats in the majority, lawmakers in the House will finally reckon with the 18-year-old resolution’s destructive consequences.

Hearings will be held in the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Garamendi will continue to push the issue in the Armed Services Committee.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, who has long championed revoking the AUMF, has taken up the gavel at the House Rules panel. 

But the renewed debate about war powers will be missing one of the body’s most relentless and experienced antagonists of military intervention.

“The particularly sad thing for me is that Walter won’t be here to participate in the full debate … given his passion about this issue,” Garamendi said. “More than any other member of the House Armed Services Committee, Democrat or Republican, he paid attention to those [Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction] audits.”