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Bipartisan House group offers bill to repeal outdated war resolutions

Rep. Mike Gallagher and others want to repeal authorizations dating back to the 1950s to reassert Congress' war powers

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers with national security backgrounds introduced legislation Thursday to repeal not just the 2002 Iraq War military authorization but also the Gulf War authorization from 1991 and an Eisenhower-era anti-communist military authorization.

Supporters of constraining the Pentagon’s expansive post-9/11 powers to carry out open-ended military interventions abroad are seeking to capitalize on and build political momentum around the Biden White House’s recent call for an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force that is more “narrow and specific.”

The two-page legislation from Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Jared Golden, D-Maine, Peter Meijer, R-Mich., and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., would repeal the 2002 AUMF, the 1991 AUMF and the 1957 authorization to fight communist threats to the Middle East.

“It’s a matter of basic constitutional hygiene,” Gallagher, the lead sponsor of the measure, said in an interview. “As Congress struggles with having abdicated its authority in general and particularly when it comes to war powers, the easiest and most practical first step is to clean up past authorizations that have not been repealed and are no longer operationally necessary.”

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House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., whose committee has jurisdiction over war powers matters, scheduled a markup on March 25 for a related piece of legislation from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. Her bill would repeal just the 2002 war resolution.

Gallagher said he is hopeful the multi-war resolution repeal bill would be considered a friendly alternative to the Lee legislation. Both Meijer and Spanberger are Foreign Affairs Committee members and could offer the legislation as an amendment to the Lee bill.

“Obviously, I don’t speak for her,” Gallagher said of Lee. “But theoretically, I don’t see why she would have any problem or the proponents of the 2002 repeal would have any problem adding 1991 and 1957 to that effort. In any case, I think it would enhance the overall message and tee us up for that broader debate about the 9/11 AUMF.”

The 9/11 AUMF refers to the 2001 authorization for military strikes against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. It forms the legal underpinning for most of the last two decades’ worth of military interventions in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

Gallagher, a former Marine intelligence officer who served in Iraq and now sits on the House Armed Services Committee, noted that different administrations have cited the 2002 and 1991 Iraq and Gulf War resolutions to justify military actions that seemed to have only a tangential relationship to the underlying authorization.

For example, in 2014, the Obama administration used the 2002 AUMF as a supplementary legal justification for its redeployment of troops to Iraq even though they were going there to fight Islamic State terrorists and not the Saddam Hussein regime, which was toppled more than a decade before. And early last year, President Donald Trump cited the 2002 war resolution as giving partial justification for its assassination of one of Iran’s top generals, Qassem Soleimani.

“Every administration comes in, it seems, and makes a complicated argument drawing on a grab bag of [AUMFs] that tends not to make sense,” said Gallagher, a former Senate Foreign Relations staffer. “We think it’s a common-sense approach to take the unnecessary AUMFs off the books, simultaneously send the signal that Congress has a constitutional role when it comes to war powers, and then hopefully kick-start a discussion about revising the 9/11 AUMF.”

The 1957 authorization is a less-well-known statute that has never been invoked even as it remains technically on the books. It was passed by Congress at the behest of President Dwight Eisenhower who feared the Soviet Union would try to fill a perceived power vacuum in the Middle East after the 1956 Suez Canal crisis left the region’s former colonizers, France and the United Kingdom, discredited, according to a 2019 Lawfare analysis.

It empowers the U.S. president “to use armed forces to assist any such nation or group of such nations requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism.”

The multi-AUMF repeal effort has the support of a broad ideological mix of national security and good governance organizations including the Project for Government Oversight, Concerned Veterans for America, the R Street Institute, VoteVets and Foreign Policy for America. 

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