The Senate Wednesday scuttled a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul to repeal the war authorizations that underpin the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as military action in a slew of other countries.
The vote was 61 to 36 to table — or kill — Paul’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The Kentucky Republican’s proposal would have repealed both the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force six months after the bill becomes law, giving lawmakers a tight window to pass a new framework for U.S. military operations overseas.
The first amendment vote on the defense policy bill H.R. 2810 (115) saw Republicans and Democrats join to defeat Paul’s proposal, while most Democrats and a handful of Republicans joined him to support the repeal.
In a floor speech Tuesday, Paul torched his fellow lawmakers for refusing to vote to authorize the myriad military actions the U.S. has engaged in since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.
“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.
“I am advocating a vote … on whether or not we should be at war,” Paul said. “It should be a simple vote. It is like pulling teeth.”
But the war powers vote didn’t come easy for the senator. Wednesday’s vote came after Paul blocked Senate leaders’ efforts to speed consideration of the must-pass defense policy bill for two days. Paul objected to procedural efforts to begin debate sooner and threatened to hold up all other senators’ amendments if he wasn’t granted a vote on his proposal.
Paul was joined by senators from both parties who supported sunsetting the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs in order to force Congress to debate and pass a new authorization that covers the current military campaign against ISIS as well as other contingencies.
Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, who has pushed for a new AUMF with Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, said it was “way past time” for a vote.
“There has been no particular motive or forcing mechanism that has made the [Foreign Relations] Committee take this up, bat it around, hear from experts, debate, amend it and send it to the floor,” Kaine said of his and Flake’s proposal.
“Of all the powers Congress has, the one that we should most jealously guard is the power to declare war,” he said.
But opponents of the measure argued repealing the two war resolutions on such a quick timeline would endanger military operations in Afghanistan and against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and send mixed signals to U.S. troops and allies overseas.
“I did not expect that 16 years later we would still be engaged in the evolution of that fight that began on 9/11,” said Senate Armed Services ranking Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island. “But we cannot, I think, simply stop, threaten to pull back our legal framework with the expectation that in six months we will produce a new and more appropriate authorization for the use of military force.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell piled on Wednesday, arguing a repeal of the legal framework for military operations against terrorist groups “breaks faith” with the troops.
Enacting a new war resolution to cover the ISIS campaign has proved to be a politically fraught effort.
Former President Barack Obama sent Congress a proposed AUMF in 2015, though neither the Senate nor the House voted on the measure. Efforts to attach a repeal of the current AUMF to major bills, including the NDAA, have also been unsuccessful.
In a classified briefing with senators in August, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the 2001 AUMF provides legal authority for current military operations in the Middle East, though Mattis has said Congress should enact a new resolution.