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Tim Kaine and the war on zombie wars

Virginia Democrat says he is slowly gaining support for a more robust congressional role in military adventures

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is continuing his fight against “zombie” wars. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is continuing his fight against “zombie” wars. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Little by little, Sen. Tim Kaine thinks fellow members of Congress are coming around to his point of view that the legislative branch should be more assertive when it comes to war powers.

The Democrat from Virginia has been among the most persistent advocates for the Senate debating and voting on authorizations for using military force when needed, and pulling them back when it’s past due. His latest push is against what he calls “zombie authorizations.”

On Wednesday, Kaine was the lead Democrat on a new bill that would repeal the authorizations for the 1991 Gulf War and the 2002 war against Iraq.

“It just creates a challenge, and for a president to think, ‘Hmm, if I want to bypass Congress, how can I do it?’” Kaine said of antiquated military authorizations that technically remain law.

Kaine said in an interview with Roll Call that while two of his key Republican partners retired — Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee — he has other senators to work with.

On the latest measure, it’s Indiana Sen. Todd Young, who is also the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.


Kaine spoke about the latest of his legislative proposals during a Wednesday Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of retired Army Gen. John Abizaid to be the new U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Abizaid was commander of Central Command during much of the more recent of the Iraq wars, from July 2003 to March 2007.

In a statement, Young noted that he enlisted during the George H.W. Bush presidency, just weeks before the 1991 conflict got underway.

“As a young high school student, I enlisted in the Navy mere weeks before the Gulf War began. Now, 28 years later, those war authorities are still active and still in law. This illustrates the level of congressional failure to perform its constitutionally mandated oversight role,” said Young, who also graduated from the Naval Academy and went on to serve in the Marines. 

Kaine praised Young, saying he had been interested in the AUMF questions dating back to his time in the House. And Kaine said the atmosphere that’s more favorable to having these debates goes well beyond their newest legislative proposal.

For instance, he does not necessarily agree with the specifics of legislation unveiled Tuesday by Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul and New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall that would bring about the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

But Kaine was glad to see it filed. “I love the fact that they put that bill in because now we’ll get some critical mass on AUMF discussions,” he said.

“Endless war weakens our national security, robs this and future generations through skyrocketing debt, and creates more enemies to threaten us. For over 17 years, our soldiers have gone above and beyond what has been asked of them in Afghanistan,” Paul said in a statement about his Afghanistan measure. “It is time to declare the victory we achieved long ago, bring them home, and put America’s needs first.”

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Kaine said he expected the Senate would be voting again in the next few weeks on a joint resolution of disapproval under expedited procedures of the War Powers Act that would pull U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The Senate voted to pass that legislation back in December, but the Republican-led House at the time did not allow it to move forward for a floor vote. Earlier this year, the House, now under Democratic control, passed a similar measure, but a late amendment caused some procedural complications in the Senate.

Kaine said he and others were looking at the War Powers mechanism being used to force the Yemen vote to determine its suitability for potential future military actions by President Donald Trump.

“The Yemen vote is a really interesting one because that procedure can be used if the U.S. is engaged in hostilities that are clearly not covered by another declaration of war or authorization — specific authorization,” Kaine said.

Kaine suggested there were circumstances where the Senate parliamentarian might, as a practical matter, be the arbiter of whether a Trump military action was backed up by some previous, or zombie, authorization.

“There are questions in this space where you’ve got to get the parliamentarian involved,” Kaine said. “You can get into some challenging and thorny issues there, but we’re trying to think through … all of the permutations on the decision tree and figure out what we would do in each case.”

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