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McCarthy says Iraq AUMFs will first go to House committee

Senate advances the bill in Tuesday vote

Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the House would start legislation to repeal authorizations for military force in committee and that it had a strong chance of reaching the floor.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the House would start legislation to repeal authorizations for military force in committee and that it had a strong chance of reaching the floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ahead of expected Senate passage of a measure that would repeal two decades-old Iraq-related military authorizations, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday he sees a strong chance the Republican-controlled House will pass a similar bill.

McCarthy, R-Calif., speaking to reporters at a Republican retreat in Florida, offered his most supportive remarks to date of the bipartisan Senate effort to repeal the 1991 Gulf War authorization for use of military force and the 2002 Iraq AUMF. But he indicated the House Foreign Affairs Committee would hold its own markup before it gets to the floor.

“It’ll have to go through committee. … I think it has a good chance of one getting through the committee and getting to the floor,” McCarthy said. He also indicated he would support repeal of the two Iraq AUMFs as long as a third one, a 2001 AUMF focused on terrorism, remains in place.

Last weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The attack toppled the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein but failed in other strategic objectives, including finding the weapons of mass destruction cited by the George W. Bush administration to justify the invasion to Congress and the United Nations. Such weapons were not found.

The U.S. military occupation also largely failed to bring stability to the Iraqis, instead creating a political vacuum that Iran exploited to expand its influence over its smaller Arab neighbor, using armed proxy militias operating in Iraq. The instability in Iraq also offered terrorist groups — notably the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS — a base to plot and carry out attacks on Iraqis and in the broader region.

McCarthy said it would be “very healthy” for lawmakers to debate repealing the Iraq-related authorizations.

“I support in keeping the worldwide [AUMF] so there’s action that can be taken if there’s a terrorist [attack] anywhere in the world. But Iraq and 20 years into it, I don’t have a problem repealing,” McCarthy said.

The Senate on Tuesday agreed by a vote of 67-28 to a motion to proceed to the AUMFs repeal legislation from Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind.

“I hope Republicans will work with us to keep the bill moving forward, because AUMF repeal in the Senate is now a matter of when, not of if,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in floor remarks. “It’s my hope that we’ll finish our work on the AUMF as soon as possible. We will have an amendment process. There is no reason to drag this out.”

The Senate leader previously said he would permit votes on a limited number of amendments he deemed reasonable. The Senate could take final action on the bill as early as this week, but the timing remains uncertain.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Tuesday introduced an amendment to the Kaine-Young legislation that would repeal the 2001 counterterrorism AUMF six months after enactment of the underlying legislation.

Paul offered a similar amendment at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup of the bill earlier this month. It was rejected in a 1-20 vote. Several Democrats voting against it said they supported repeal of the 2001 authorization but that they viewed the amendment as harmful to the bipartisan effort to sunset the Iraq-focused AUMFs.

“A driving force behind the AUMF was Saddam’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction — allegations that were later revealed to be untrue,” wrote Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Bridget Moix, general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby organization, in a weekend op-ed on CNN.com.

The two said leaving the 2002 AUMF on the books offered an opportunity for a future U.S. administration to use it in a way Congress did not initially envision when lawmakers first approved it.

“Even after the war ended in 2011, the 2002 Iraq AUMF lived on. As the Obama administration carried out its campaign against ISIS in 2014, officials cited the 2002 Iraq AUMF as one of the legal justifications for strikes in Iraq and, later, Syria,” Lee and Moix said. “When President Donald Trump took power, his administration followed suit, leaning on the 2002 Iraq AUMF in 2018 to justify the continued use of force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while reserving the right to also use it ‘elsewhere.'”

The Biden White House says it supports repeal of the 1991 and 2002 Iraq AUMFs.

Lee, who led House opponents of the Bush administration’s request for a military authorization to attack Iraq in 2002, is the sponsor of the House version of the bill to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Iraq authorizations. It has co-sponsorship from a broad swath of lawmakers, including members of House Republican leadership and the far-right Freedom Caucus.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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