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Pelosi wants new AUMF but says ‘it’s harder than you would think’

Speaker describes questions for debating new AUMF but does not commit to vote

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday, January 9, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday, January 9, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she wants Congress to pass a new authorization for use of military force, or AUMF, to cover all conflicts the U.S. is currently fighting in the Middle East but she did not commit to drafting or holding a vote on such a measure. 

“It’s harder than you would think,” the California Democrat said during her weekly press conference. 

[Republicans come out against Iran language they previously supported]

Every president who has served since 9/11 has used AUMFs Congress passed in 2001 and 2002 to approve military operations in the region to justify various military operations they’ve conducted. Both have been cited recently by administration officials trying to justify President Donald Trump’s drone strike killing Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani.

“For sure,” Pelosi said when asked if she thinks the existing AUMFs should be repealed. 

“We will have that resolution coming up soon under the leadership of Barbara Lee,” she said.

Lee’s legislation, as currently proposed, would only repeal the 2002 AUMF authorizing military operations in Iraq. The House passed the same language in July as an amendment to its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, 242-180, but it was stripped from the final version negotiated with the Senate.

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Pelosi described three key decisions that need to be made in debating a new AUMF — “timing, geography and scope.”

Any new AUMF should have a sunset date — “not one that couldn’t be renewed, but nonetheless it should have a date,” she said.

Pelosi said it’s important to define which areas of the Middle East the U.S. is willing to use military force. An on scope, she said questions arise about whether lawmakers want to authorize boots on the ground, air cover or other operations. 

Pelosi did not specify a timeline for the House to draft a new AUMF, nor did she offered any guarantees such a measure would actually be introduced or make it to the floor. 

The AUMF debate, if it comes, will follow a Thursday House vote on a War Powers resolution directing the president to terminate the use of military force in or against Iran unless Congress authorizes it or there’s an imminent attack on Americans.

Democrats decided to file the War Powers resolution as a concurrent resolution, which is a nonbinding measure that does not go to the president’s desk to become law. Pelosi pushed back on characterizations that its nonbinding nature makes the resolution less effective.

“This is with real teeth,” she said. 

Pelosi said the War Powers Act provides two paths for such legislation and one is a concurrent resolution.

“We’re taking this path because it does not require a signature of the president of the United States,” she said. 

The War Powers resolution is a statement of the Congress, Pelosi said. “And I will not have this statement be diminished by whether the president would veto or not.”

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