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House votes to rescind Iraq war authorization after 19 years

U.S. Marines assigned to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) 19.2, at Baghdad Embassy Compound in Iraq, Jan. 3, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Kyle C. Talbot)
June 17, 2021

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the authorization that has been used by U.S. presidents to carry out U.S. military action in Iraq without a formal declaration of war for the past 19 years.

The House voted 268 to 161 on legislation to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for Iraq. The legislation, brought by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), had the support of 219 Democrats and 49 Republicans, while 160 Republicans and one Democrat opposed the legislation.

The Wall Street Journal reported the 2002 AUMF allowed the president to authorize military action to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” and that the AUMF has gradually been expanded to enable U.S. counterterrorism operations without a formal declaration of war.

Lawmakers have been trying for years to repeal the AUMFs permitting U.S. military action in both Afghanistan and Iraq. A similar AUMF for Afghanistan was passed in 2001.

Lee said the purpose of the AUMF for Iraq had ended in 2011 after President Barack Obama ordered U.S. troops to leave Iraq, concluding Operation Iraqi Freedom. While U.S. forces left Iraq in December of 2011, they returned to Iraq in June of 2014 to help the Iraqi government in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, known as ISIS.

Following the Thursday vote, Lee said, “Let’s be clear: U.S. military operations carried out under the 2002 AUMF officially concluded in 2011 and this authorization no longer serves any operational purpose. As long as it remains on the books, the law is susceptible to further abuse by any President.”

Lee said she would also work to repeal the 2001 AUMF for Afghanistan and said Congress should act to reassert its “authority on matters of war and peace.”

The Washington Post reported Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), one of the Republican supporters of the bill, said “Three presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, have used this permission to drag out conflicts that will get us into new ones.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opposed passing a simple repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF. He said, “We need to replace this with an updated AUMF that reflects the threats in the region, the current threats, which is Iran.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) responded, “If we think Iran is a threat, maybe we should do an AUMF for Iran . . . this AUMF is for Iraq. There’s no need to repeal and replace, they’re outdated, and once they’re outdated, let’s just remove them from the books.”

With the House vote, the bill now goes to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has already vowed to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has also expressed support for bringing the bill to a Senate floor vote.

Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) have also brought forward a Senate version of the bill to repeal the Iraq AUMF. Lee said she will “continue working with Senators Kaine and Young to get this legislation across the finish line to President Biden’s desk for a signature.”

While supporting the repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF, Kaine and Menendez both support replacing it with a revised language, rather than a simple repeal, the Wall Street Journal reported. Past efforts to repeal the 2002 AUMF have been complicated by arguments over if and how it should be replaced.

“What the replacement looks like, what are the contours of it, that’s going to be the tricky part,” Menendez said earlier this year.