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Senate votes to repeal two Iraq military authorizations

Senators say repeal puts war powers authority back in Congress

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., left, and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., shown at the Capitol on March 16, led the Senate effort to repeal the decades-old authorizations.
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., left, and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., shown at the Capitol on March 16, led the Senate effort to repeal the decades-old authorizations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would repeal two decades-old authorizations to use military force against Iraq after supporters of the legislation had fended off floor efforts to amend it, including proposals that would have singled out Iran as a threat in the Middle East.

Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind., the lead backers of the measure, were able to keep the bill focused on the 2002 AUMF and the 1991 AUMF enacted ahead of the Gulf War. The Senate voted 66-30 to repeal both. A third AUMF , enacted in 2001 and not covered by the repeal, authorizes action against terrorism. 

The repeal discussion moves next to the House, where Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he sees a strong chance that a similar bill will pass. But he also said the chamber would begin its consideration in committee. The White House says President Joe Biden supports the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., counted the cost of the wars in U.S. soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq as he urged passage of the bill. “We owe it to all of them to act,” he said. 

“The United States, Iraq, the entire world has changed dramatically since 2002,” Schumer said. “These AUMFs have outlived their use … every year we keep these on the books is another chance for a future administration to use them.”

He said war powers belong in Congress. “This is not going to be a one-house action. We have good support in the House of Representatives,” Schumer said. 

He singled out for praise Kaine, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Young, “who brought so many of his colleagues along.”

Schumer also said the work on the bill, including floor debate and votes on amendments, should be a blueprint for how the Senate works. 

Kaine, the bill’s sponsor, contrasted the Senate’s lengthy work on the repeal to the speedy initial passage of the AUMFs. The last two weeks concluded the chamber’s work on a bill that has been pending since 2019 and has gone through two markups in the Foreign Relations Committee, he said.

“Instead of rushing to a war in three days, we’ve had a very robust process,” Kaine said. 

Young called the continued validity of the AUMFs an “intentional abdication” of Congress’s constitutional responsibility and an obstacle to working with Iraq to contain the influence of Iran. The U.S. can’t stop Iran in a partnership with a nation it’s still at war with, he said. 

“Iran has designs on a path to the Mediterranean Sea,” he said, adding that Tehran wants to move weapons and material to proxies across the region. “This terrorism thoroughfare would run through Syria, Lebanon and Iraq… Iraq cannot follow this path. It cannot become a satellite of Iran and Iran cannot be permitted unrestricted access across the region.”

Senate concerns about Iran were a repeated theme of Republican efforts to amend the bill on the floor, but Kaine and Young persuaded colleagues to keep the language unchanged. 

The discomfort over Iran continued ahead of the vote Wednesday.

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said he opposed the bill. 

“This repeal will only add fuel to the narrative that the U.S. is disengaging from the region,” he said, adding that he was unconvinced that the U.S. had had any “meaningful consultations” with its partners in the region. Risch also said the 2002 AUMF has been used as giving the U.S. authority in litigation against terrorists.

“I sincerely would like to report this repeal, ” he said. “The realities on the ground convince me that I cannot support repeal at this time.”

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