Lost within the coverage of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma was an attempt by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) from 2001 and 2002. Paul’s goal was to force Congress to vote on a new AUMF for current conflicts like the fight against ISIS.
“I don’t think that anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty believes that these authorizations from 16 years ago and 14 years ago … authorized war in seven different countries,” Paul said.
His fight was not an easy one. He was forced to block the Senate leaders’ efforts to speed up consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Only after it was clear that Paul would not allow a vote did the Senate concede to his efforts and allow a vote for Paul’s motion, which was passed 61-36 in the Senate. Combine this with President Trump extending the post 9/11 emergency proclamation, which grants the President sweeping powers to mobilize the military, and a problem continues to fester.
It has become clear that Congress needs to take back its power to declare war and authorize the use of military force.
“Of all the powers Congress has, the one that we should most jealously guard is the power to declare war,” Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) said during the debate of Paul’s motion.
Both houses of Congress need to take action and fight for their war making power. The last three presidents have used the powers granted to them to involve the U.S. in conflicts throughout the world. All three have arguably abused these powers as well. In terms of the emergency powers, neither President Bush nor President Obama obeyed the law by having the executive branch report to Congress every six months on how much they have spent under these powers.
Now, there is work being done in the Senate on a new AUMF for combatting ISIS. This effort is bipartisan work being conducted by Kaine and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). However, Congress has shirked its duty on multiple occasions. Neither the House nor the Senate voted on a 2015 AUMF proposed by President Obama for combatting ISIS.
Additionally, multiple efforts to repeal the current AUMF by attaching them to previous major bills have failed as well. In August, Defense Secretary Mattis argued that the 2001 AUMF authorized current U.S. military action in the Middle East, even though he has previously stated that Congress should enact a new AUMF.
Congress must take action and once again check the powers of the executive branch by forcing votes on military action to be taken and make the executive branch follow the laws that they are sworn to uphold. Both Congress and the executive branch are violating the Constitution by not gaining new authorizations for conflicts. If Congress does not take action, I fear that the U.S. will be in a perpetual state of war.