The 2001 war authorization was the legal justification for the fight against Al Qaeda
Rep. Barbara Lee and other critics argue that that authorization is now outdated
House Republican leadership has removed a contentious provision from a defense spending bill that would have repealed the 2001 war authorization used to fight the wars against Al Qaeda and ISIS.
The amendment, added to the House defense appropriations bill by Rep. Barbara Lee, would have repealed the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force eight months after the bill was signed into law, giving Congress that time to pass a new war authorization.
Lee, a California Democrat, was the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF, which passed just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The war authorization was the legal justification for the US fight against Al Qaeda and its subsidiaries across the globe.
Lee and other critics argue that the 2001 war authorization is now outdated, as both the Obama and Trump administrations have used it as legal justification for the war against ISIS, which did not exist in 2001.
The amendment would have set the stage for a major debate over the US war on terror on the House floor. Leaders in both parties have been reluctant to pass a new war authorization since the US began bombing ISIS in 2014. There’s no consensus on what authorities — or restrictions — should be placed on the commander in chief, and many lawmakers are wary about taking a vote on the war, cognizant of the political damage of Hillary Clinton’s Iraq War vote.
Now that debate and vote doesn’t need to happen.
The defense appropriations bill is being combined with several other security-related spending measures for a House vote next week, and the House rules committee used the opportunity to strip the Lee amendment from the larger measure.
National Defense Authorization Act from Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma calling for a strategy to defeat Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.
Republican leaders have argued that the defense appropriations bill is not the appropriate venue for a debate on war authorization, as it’s a policy issue that should be taken up by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
A Republican rules committee aide said that’s why the amendment was removed.
“Since the provision is an authorizing provision it is under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Committee,” the aide said. “The House debated issues related to ongoing operations and the status of legal authorities for those operations through the Cole amendment to NDAA, which passed the House by voice vote. The committee has substituted that House passed language in lieu of the authorizing provision reported by the appropriations committee.”
Lee’s amendment was added to the House’s defense appropriations bill last month, when the committee approved the amendment by a voice vote after it received support from both Republicans and Democrats.
Cole was one of the Republican appropriators who expressed support.
After the vote, Lee acknowledged that her bid still faced an uphill climb. Earlier this month she sought out House Speaker Paul Ryan on the floor, urging him not to strip her provision from the bill.
Ryan did not commit to doing so, Lee said.
“It would be a mistake – and frankly an abdication of congressional responsibility – to kill this important, bipartisan amendment,” she said at the time.
Ryan’s office called the proposal “irresponsible.”
“The Lee amendment was an irresponsible measure that would have would have left service members in the field without an authorization to defeat al-Qaeda and ISIS and could have led to the release of the prisoners at Guantanamo,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement. “There is a way to have this debate but an amendment that endangers our national security is not it.”
This story has been updated to reflect additional information.