WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate is moving toward a vote Wednesday on Sen. Rand Paul’s proposal to scrap America’s current war authorizations, potentially the first such vote since 2002, he announced Tuesday.
Senate leaders have apparently struck a deal with Paul, who had threatened to block consideration of further amendments to the $700 billion 2018 defense policy bill unless his measure received a vote.
The deal removes a potential obstacle for debate on hot-button issues including protections for transgendered troops, a new round of base closures and other amendments that reflect the priorities of lawmakers across the Senate.
“I rise today to oppose unauthorized, undeclared and unconstitutional war,” the Republican senator from Kentucky said. “What we have today is basically unlimited war — war anywhere, anytime, any place on the globe.”
If passed as proposed, the amendment would repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations within six months of its passage, a gambit to have Congress debate whether to grant new authorization to the current president for current conflicts.
To fight the Islamic State group, the Trump administration, as did the Obama administration, relies on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, that was approved by Congress in 2001, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. A separate authorization for the war in Iraq approved in 2002 also remains in force.
Paul, a leader of the GOP’s non-interventionist wing and longtime advocate for an AUMF vote, argues those authorizations are being used improperly to justify military operations in Yemen and against ISIS.
Still, there are procedural hurdles left for Paul’s amendment, and lawmakers may be reluctant to hold a vote on an AUMF because of the political consequences, or for other reasons.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., called the six-month period arbitrary and said an AUMF replacement needs to be part of the discussions.
“What we’re simply doing if the Paul amendment is adopted is saying: ‘If we can’t get our job done in six months, then we have no legal authority or questionable legal authority to continue operations across the globe,’ ” Reed said. ”It would be an arbitrary six-month period, and it would unfortunately, I think, send the very inappropriate signal to our troops, to our allies in the fight across the globe, and also it would send an unfortunate signal to our adversaries.”
Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., spoke on the Senate floor in support of Paul’s amendment. They have introduced an AUMF they hoped would serve as a starting point for debate.
“Congress should now have a long-overdue debate and vote on our ongoing military action against ISIS, al-Qaida and the Taliban, including in Afghanistan,” said Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.
“The majority of us weren’t in Congress in 2001 to vote on the Authorization for Use of Military Force that’s still being used to justify our current military action, and we owe it to our service members and the American people to define the U.S. mission and publicly reaffirm our commitment to this fight.”
Earlier Tuesday, White House legislative director Marc Short said the Trump administration has adequate legal authority to combat terrorist groups and doesn’t support the push in Congress for a new law permitting military action against ISIS and other militants.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis informed lawmakers last month that the 2001 authorization provides sufficient authority to wage war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But Tillerson and Mattis also said they’re open to an updated authorization, provided the measure doesn’t impose tactically unwise restrictions or infringe on the president’s constitutional powers as commander in chief.
But Short, who spoke at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, said the administration isn’t looking for changes and stood by the 2001 authorization.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.