1. Update
  2. U.S. Wars & Militarism

Time for Congress to Reclaim Its Constitutional War Authority

By Susan Nahvi, Yasmine Taeb, October 30, 2017


The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force has provided three presidents with a blank check to wage war without congressional review or approval as required by the U.S. Constitution. But in the last few months, members of Congress from both political parties are starting to question the endless expansion of U.S. wars.

This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins a series of hearings with administration officials that FCNL hopes will lead to the mark up of legislation repealing the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

These hearings come on the heels of Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) introducing an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that called for repealing the 2001 AUMF. Rep. Lee’s amendment was adopted by the House Appropriations Committee, but House leadership stripped the amendment from the RY2018 Defense Appropriations Bill. In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (KY) forced a vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which also called for a repeal of the 2001 AUMF. While the Senate voted to table Sen. Paul’s amendment (see how your senators voted here), these are critical first steps towards having a full debate on endless war.

The 2001 Blank Check for War

According to the Congressional Research Service, President Bush, Obama and Trump have all used the 2001 AUMF as a source of authority to conduct at least 37 military actions in 14 different countries. These numbers come from unclassified documents, so we do not know whether more actions might have been taken. The 2001 AUMF has no geographic restrictions, which is dangerous, as this has allowed presidential administrations to take military action wherever they have seen fit while claiming they do not have to consult Congress. The 2001 AUMF also does not have a sunset clause, meaning that it has no expiration date. For 16 years, the executive branch has continued to use this bill as the basis for military actions around the world. Without repeal, there is no end in sight.

Effectively, Congress has abdicated its war authority and its duty to decide when and where the United States goes to war. Article I section 8 of the Constitution states that “The Congress shall have power to…. declare war,” and yet, Congress has not held a full debate in 16 years on whether our country should expand its military operations into new countries or continue to wage these wars at all.

This is why it is so important that Congress is starting a serious debate about when, where, and why the U.S. goes to war. On October 30th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold the first of a series of hearings on these issues. Now is the time to take action. Write to your senators in response to their votes on Sen. Paul’s repeal amendment, and tell them that you are tired of endless war. Urge your members of Congress to support efforts to repeal the 2001 AUMF.

Susan Nahvi

  • Program Assistant, Human Rights and Civil Liberties

Susan Nahvi advocates on behalf of FCNL in the area of Human Rights and Civil Liberties. She concentrates on several issues, including the Muslim travel ban, Islamophobia, and Syrian refugees. She writes articles that appear on FCNL’s website, lobbies members of Congress, and supports the work of Legislative Representative Yasmine Taeb.

Yasmine Taeb

  • Legislative Representative for Human Rights and Civil Liberties

Yasmine directs FCNL’s work on a number of human rights and civil liberties issues, including lobbying for increased resettlement of Syrian refugees, more transparency and oversight of the U.S. lethal drones program, calling for the closure of Guantanamo, and for the repeal of the 2001 AUMF, among other issues.