WASHINGTON ― A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force in the Middle East amid escalating tension between the U.S. and Iran.
The legislation, led by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind., comes as lawmakers have complained that President Joe Biden did not notify Congress or seek its consent before approving deadly airstrikes in Syria last week. Their efforts could test whether Congress, which fought to reclaim its war-making powers under President Donald Trump, will continue that fight under Biden.
“Last week’s airstrikes in Syria show that the Executive Branch, regardless of party, will continue to stretch its war powers. Congress has a responsibility to not only vote to authorize new military action, but to repeal old authorizations that are no longer necessary,” Kaine said in a statement. “The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs that underpinned the war against Iraq need to be taken off the books to prevent their future misuse. They serve no operational purpose, keep us on permanent war footing, and undermine the sovereignty of Iraq, a close partner.”
Kaine told The Hill that the new legislation is the first step in his efforts to update the 1974 War Powers Act and the 2001 authorization.
Last year, Trump vetoed a bipartisan measure from Kaine and others to limit his authority to launch military operations against Iran; the Senate failed to override the veto.
The new bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rand Paul, R-Ky.
“The airstrikes against Iranian-backed forces in Syria last week demonstrate the need to review and revise the way in which our leaders collectively choose whether or not to wage war. An initial yet important part of that process is removing unnecessary war-making resolutions that are still on the books,” said Coons, a Biden ally.
U.S. forces struck multiple targets in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militant groups last Thursday in retaliation for recent rocket attacks against bases in Iraq housing U.S. and coalition troops and civilians. Since then, 10 rockets targeted a military base in western Iraq hosting U.S. and coalition troops on Wednesday.
The Defense Department has stood by its strikes on Wednesday, as Pentagon spokesman John Kirby reiterated arguments that they were “a defensive measure” meant to impact the ability of militant groups to conduct future attacks and send a signal that the U.S. will defend its personnel.
“The President, as commander in chief has a fundamental responsibility to act in defense self defense of our troops and our assets overseas, nothing’s going to change about that,” Kirby said.
Members of Congress looking to address existing authorizations of military force, Kirby said, will “find a willing partner in that discussion here at the Defense Department.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.