In wake of Syria strikes, lawmakers seek updated war authorization

"It's time for us to act to provide ... limits,” Sen. Chris Coons said.

April 16, 2018, 8:15 PM

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Monday intended to bring an almost two-decade-old war authorization up to date, a move that some lawmakers have been demanding for years but which has received renewed interest after recent military action in Syria.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Tim Kaine, R-Va., introduced a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, which would replace two AUMFs passed shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

That AUMF authorized force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and has continued to provide the legal rationale for the current U.S. campaign against ISIS, which the Obama administration argued is a successor of al-Qaeda. But as almost two decades have gone by, and as the Trump administration continues its military campaign against ISIS, there has been a growing call by some members of Congress to pass an updated AUMF that better reflects the U.S. military’s current goals and targets.

In addition to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, this new bill would authorize the president to use force against ISIS and “designated associated forces.” The president would have to report to Congress on all new associated forces not explicitly named and provide the basis for targeting them, as well as update Congress on each new country in which the AUMF is being applied.

The president could also act against a new designated force or country immediately but would have to notify Congress within 48 hours, which would trigger a new debate on whether that force or country is applicable under the AUMF.

The bill would also impose some periodic oversight requirements, including a review every four years after which time a president would submit a proposal to repeal, modify or leave the AUMF in place. If Congress does nothing, the existing authorities would remain in place.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had not yet seen the final bill text but said he was concerned that, based on what he knew about the bill, it might remove too much authority from Congress on the front end when it comes to military action.

“Congress' role under the constitution is to declare war, not to nullify it after it's done,” he said.

Some other Democrats have raised concerns that an AUMF should contain more specific sunset periods. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a cosponsor of the Corker-Kaine AUMF, said this new bill might not be perfect, but it has more time constraints than the current AUMF.

“The current authorization that our current president is using to conduct war in a number of places has virtually no limits and it's time for us to act to provide for those limits,” Coons said.

While a certain bloc of senators has long called for an updated authorization, it is the Trump administration’s recent airstrikes against the Assad regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons -- which would not immediately be covered under this new AUMF -- that have arguably been the biggest factor in reigniting this public debate.

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