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The Senate voted 61 to 36 on Wednesday to table Senator Paul Rand’s (R-KY) amendment to the 2018 NDAA, which would have repealed the 2001 and 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The 2001 AUMF authorized the president’s use of “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” connected with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Senator Paul called his amendment “grabbing back the power to declare war,” citing concerns about the applicability of the AUMFs for current military actions and questioning whether the president’s military authority is constitutional. Paul noted the authorizations from 16 and 14 years ago have authorized war in seven different countries.
Of those in support of the amendment was Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). “It’s hard to understand,” Cardin stated, “how you could get from the reading of this authorization to the use of military force today.” Cardin further argued that members of Congress “have a responsibility to specifically authorize the new threats that we have against our country and what military force is appropriate.” Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supported the amendment for similar reasons.
Among those critical of the amendment were Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), John McCain (R-AZ), and Bob Corker (R-TN). Reed, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged the AUMF should be revised but objected to the current effort on the theory that “you can’t replace something with nothing.” Reed expressed little confidence that Congress would be able to provide language for a new AUMF within the six month deadline before the repeal took effect. Moreover, the senator cited concern that such a deadline would instigate confusion among U.S. military forces and allies uncertain whether U.S. operations would cease after the six month window lapsed.
Senator McCain joined Reed in opposing the amendment, similarly asserting the amendment was premature and would jeopardize the legal authority of current operations. While McCain agreed with the amendment’s supporters that the time has come for a new AUMF in the global fight against terrorism, he argued for a process that would unconditionally support current military forces. Senator Bob Corker, strongly emphasizing his opposition, motioned to table the amendment following McCain’s statement.
This vote is far from the end of this debate. It reveals a degree of bipartisan agreement regarding the need to revise the existing AUMF, though the timing and process of such a revision remains contended. Nevertheless, the concern for the amendment’s immediate impact on military stability and national security continue to outweigh arguments against the constitutionality and applicability of such authority. You can watch the full debate here.