Whoa is right. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment that would repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Appropriations bill would repeal the 2001 AUMF effective 240 days after the appropriations bill is enacted. That would give Congress eight months to pass a new authorization to address current circumstances before the overstretched and outdated 2001 AUMF was no longer in effect.
While Lee’s amendment was expected—she has long been a leading voice on repealing the 2001 AUMF—the nearly unanimous bipartisan vote to approve the amendment was not. Even Lee seems to have been surprised that it passed:
Whoa. My amdt to sunset 2001 AUMF was adopted in DOD Approps markup! GOP & Dems agree: a floor debate & vote on endless war is long overdue. pic.twitter.com/FS8LfYWo5J
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) June 29, 2017
But not only did the “yays” clearly have it—Chairman Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) actually laughed after hearing the strong chorus of yays followed by a barely audible single nay—the room broke out into applause upon his announcement that the amendment passed.
Prior to the vote, half a dozen committee members stood up to speak in favor of the amendment. It’s worth watching the 12 minutes of debate in full:
Here are a few key highlights:
Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK):
“This is something where Congress has collectively avoided taking responsibility for years. The Constitution is awfully clear… about where war making authority resides—it resides in this body. And we’ve had leadership, honestly on both sides, that have put off this debate again and again and again. As a matter of fact, when the Secretary appeared before our subcommittee I asked him, ‘Would it help you to have a new authorization?’… and he said ‘Yes it would, it’s something that would help us a lot.’ So if we’re going to send people to war, we owe them the support of the Congress of the United States… We’re at war against an enemy that did not exist in a place that we did not expect to fight, so how an AUMF that was passed 16 years ago… could possibly be stretched to cover this is just beyond belief to me.”
Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT), a former air force pilot:
“[The military has] the courage to go out and fight these wars, and they notice that we don’t have the courage to debate this, and to give them the authority to go do this… They notice that Congress doesn’t have the guts to stand up and have this debate and give them the authority that they’re continuing everyday and putting their lives and their wellbeing and the sacrifice of their families… they notice that Congress doesn’t have the courage to have this debate. I support the intent of the amendment and I hope Congress will have the courage to do that.”
Congressman Scott Taylor (R-VA), a former Navy Seal:
“We’ve seen a disproportionate sacrifice with the military community who has gone over and over again and I believe that we owe them the debate whichever side you come down on.”
Congressman Ruppersberger (D-MD):
“When I came in this morning I was going to vote no, but we’re debating right now, and when two respected members of the military stand up and make a comment, I’m listening… I’m going to be with you on this… and I think right now that this is what’s important for America and that we need to move forward on this.”
Only the subcommittee Chairwoman, Kay Granger (R-TX), spoke against amendment. She argued that the amendment would crippled the ability of the U.S. to conduct counterterrorism operations and would put in place a major policy change. Defense Subcommittee Ranking Member Peter Visclosky rebutted these points, arguing that the amendment does not take any position on what the policy should or will be going forward or require military operations to cease. Rather, it gives Congress eight months to set a new policy. While disagreement remains in Congress over what any new AUMF should look like, that gap seems to be narrowing while concern that the 2001 AUMF is being stretched too far is growing. Lee’s amendment, whether it makes it into the final bill or not, is a strong sign that the ground is shifting in Congress on this issue. But, as Steve Vladeck noted over on Twitter, the 2001 AUMF is not likely to be repealed without anyone noticing…