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Yesterday, for the first time, a congressional committee advanced a bill to repeal one of the war authorizations that successive presidents have relied on to keep the United States at war for the last two decades.

Yesterday’s committee meeting made one matter clear: there is a strong, bipartisan consensus that it is long past time to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF.

On a bipartisan basis, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to pass H.R. 256, Rep. Barbara Lee’s (CA-13) bill to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq (2002 Iraq AUMF).

This outdated authorization, which precipitated the Iraq War, was passed to authorize force against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq to defend the United States against the threat from Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Not only was this justification based on false pretenses, Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003 and the Iraq War was declared officially over in 2011.

In the March 25 hearing, Committee Chair Gregory Meeks (NY-5) noted that in a hearing held earlier in the week, former executive branch attorneys “whether Republican or Democrat testified that this committee should repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq and not replace it.” Meeks noted that a different authority, the 2001 AUMF, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, provides the primary legal basis for all current operations. He stressed that “even though [the 2002 Iraq AUMF is] not needed, keeping it in place leaves the door wide open for future administrations to claim Congress already authorized action.”

This sentiment was echoed by committee members on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Peter Meijer (MI-03) stated that “the 2002 AUMF has not been used in the sense of being the operative authorization for any military action undertaken in and around Iraq roughly since the time I left Iraq in 2011.” He labeled “the idea that we would be left defenseless” by its repeal as “disingenuous,” pointing to the president’s Article II defensive war powers.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) emphasized Congress’s constitutional duty to declare war, saying that “[w]e must take the steps to reassert Congressional authority in decisions of war and peace. It’s required by the Constitution and it’s fundamental to our ability to represent our constituents.”

The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 28-19, including Republican Reps. Peter Meijer and Ken Buck.

Those who opposed the bill largely focused on process. Ranking Member Michael McCaul (TX-10) acknowledged that “we’ve abdicated our Article I responsibilities and we need to look at updating these very old authorizations for use of military force. I think we have the same goal in mind. I think we just have a different way of getting there.” McCaul objected to the bill, stating his preference that both the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs be considered and reformed in tandem.

The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 28-19, including Republican Reps. Meijer and Ken Buck (CO-04).

Despite the lack of agreement on the best approach, yesterday’s committee meeting made one matter clear: there is a strong, bipartisan consensus that it is long past time to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF.

This consensus reflects other bipartisan efforts in Congress. A bipartisan Senate bill to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF and 1991 Gulf War AUMF from Sens. Tim Kaine (VA) and Todd Young (IN) currently has 13 cosponsors, including five Republicans. Another bipartisan House bill was introduced last week that would repeal the 2002 and 1991 AUMFs along with another outdated AUMF passed in 1957.

Encouraging statements from other key decision makers have also continued to percolate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) said he is “sympathetic” to repealing the 2002 Iraq AUMF and Senator Kaine relayed that he has “not heard any opposition from the White House” to such a move.

We hope that Speaker Pelosi will swiftly advance H.R. 256 to a vote on the House floor. We urge President Biden to publicly support finally repealing this unnecessary law that remains susceptible to abuse.

Heather Brandon-Smith

Heather Brandon-Smith

Legislative Director, Militarism and Human Rights
Heather Brandon-Smith is FCNL’s Legislative Director for Militarism and Human Rights. Heather leads FCNL’s work to repeal outdated war authorization, promote respect for human rights and international law, and reduce U.S. armed interventions around the world.

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