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This week, the House Appropriations Committee voted to repeal the two authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs) that four presidents have used to justify more than 20 years of U.S. wars.

The committee adopted by voice vote two amendments from Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) to the annual defense spending bill. One would end the 2001 AUMF after eight months, which was passed in response to the 9/11 attacks.  The other would immediately repeal the 2002 AUMF, which authorized force against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

Rep. Lee labeled Congress’s failure to debate and vote on U.S. wars “a betrayal of the American people and our constitutional duty.”

Highlighting that only 56 current members of the House were serving in Congress when the 2001 AUMF was enacted, Rep. Lee noted that “87 percent of our colleagues have never had a say on the authorization to use military force.” “[T]heir constituents have not had a say either,” she added. Rep. Lee labeled Congress’s failure to debate and vote on U.S. wars “a betrayal of the American people and our constitutional duty.”

Turning to her amendment to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF, Rep. Lee said the authorization “no longer serves any operational purpose,” calling it “outdated and dangerous.” Leaving it in place, she said, “allows any president to utilize it for military action that Congress never intended to authorize.”

Indeed, in 2020, the Trump administration claimed that the 2002 Iraq AUMF provided legal authority to kill Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. This assertion was roundly rejected by respected legal scholars but served as a case in point for how the nearly two-decades old war authorization could be abused.

This week’s vote continued the growing momentum in Congress to reassert its constitutional war powers. Last year, with a strong bipartisan majority of 268 to 161, the House voted to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF. A bipartisan Senate bill led by Sens. Tim Kaine (VA) and Todd Young (IN) to repeal that authorization recently gained an additional Republican cosponsor in Sen. Steve Daines (MT), bringing the total number of Republicans to a filibuster-proof 11.

This week’s vote continued the growing momentum in Congress to reassert its constitutional war powers.

The United States is currently at an inflection point concerning U.S. military operations abroad. Last September, referencing the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden declared to the United Nations General Assembly, “for the first time in 20 years, the United States is not at war.”

Yet, the administration continues to conduct lethal force operations in several countries, including Iraq and Syria, and recently redeployed hundreds of U.S. Special Operations forces to Somalia to target al-Shabaab. The administration cited the 2001 AUMF as legal authority for this course, despite the fact that neither Somalia nor al-Shabaab was mentioned in that AUMF.

It is long past time for Congress to reevaluate the course of the last 20 years of addressing terrorism through the lens of war. The post-9/11 wars have resulted in the deaths of over 929,000 people, including more than 387,000 civilians, all while the number of terror attacks and groups and individuals willing to engage in terrorism have increased.

We are encouraged by this week’s House votes to end the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs and the growing support for AUMF repeal in the Senate. We urge the defense appropriations subcommittee chairs Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04) and Sen. Jon Tester (MT) to ensure that these provisions remain in the final Pentagon spending bill that is sent to the president’s desk.

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.