Updating U.S. Military Authorizations
On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, the United States Senate rejected a proposal by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to amend the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
The amendment, tabled by a 61-36 senatorial vote, would have repealed the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations for the use of military force six months after the NDAA went into effect, giving legislatorse nough of a window to pass new authorizations.
The vote comes just a day before the sixteen year anniversary of the passing of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force and received support from a mix of senators rarely on the same side of an issue. Among them, former Vice-Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine (D-VA), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL). The opposition was equally bipartisan, including John McCain (R-AZ), Bob Corker (R-TN), and Jack Reed (D-RI).
In effect, the amendment would have stopped Congress from ceding its war powers to the President and given them time and incentives to reclaim their authority to declare war. Though six months might seem like a short time to restructure the framework for overseas military authorizations, Senator Paul, in a floor speech, said, “Who in their right mind thinks Congress is going to do their job without being forced to do their job?”
The existing authorizations were passed almost unanimously in 2001, with the exception of Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), who believed that the Authorization for Use of Military Force was a “blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events—anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.”
Now, it appears Lee’s initially controversial objection resonates across party lines in the Senate. Both Senators Paul and Kaine argue that they are not trying to remove all American involvement overseas, but rather open the floor for debate. Sen. Paul asserts that it has been too long since Congress debated U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have stated that they believe the current authorizations are sufficient legal authority to conduct and continue current U.S. operations in the Middle East and that an attempt to repeal the current authorizations will tie the hands of the Commander in Chief.
The 1973 War Powers Act requires congressional approval for the President to keep U.S. troops deployed in combat for longer than ninety days.