WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of veterans on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee is offering a replacement authorization for the use of military force, riding some recent momentum in both chambers.
Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., have introduced an AUMF limited to five years, and to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State; and it would also direct the president to report to Congress 60 days after passage and then every 90 days.
“The threats we face today are far different than those we faced over a decade ago, and this legislation reflects Congress’s Constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force against terrorist organizations,” said Coffman, who chairs the Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. He deployed in the first Gulf War and again in 2005.
The Trump administration, which relies on authorizations from 2001 and 2002, is not seeking a new AUMF. However, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in recent congressional testimony that an AUMF would show buy-in from lawmakers and the American people.
“As far as the AUMF goes … we need the unity of the American government and with the Congress involved that brings the unity of the American people to this fight,” Mattis said. “The U.S. Congress has got to embrace this as our fight. We’re all in this.”
After years of failed efforts to adopt a new AUMF, this year saw the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee adopt an amendment to sunset the 2001 that was later scuttled. In September, there was a 61-36 vote in the Senate to table a repeal America’s war authorizations.
A growing chorus of lawmakers are arguing Congress must reclaim its constitutional war powers or that the authorities in the original authorizations have been stretched well beyond their original intent.
“For too long, Congress has allowed our armed forces to be used with ever more tenuous links to a vague and obsolete Authorization of Military Force. This bill would refocus our efforts against terrorism and prevent the unauthorized use of our military against other countries or people,” said Gallego, an Iraq war veteran.
Bacon, who served as the Air Force’s director of ISR strategy, plans, doctrine and force development before winning a seat in Congress, pointed to the legislative branch’s constitutional role.
“Article One of the Constitution bestows on Congress the authority to declare war and Congress needs to do its job,” Bacon said. “Our military must know it has the support of the American citizens we represent and that support is reflected by Congress debating and voting on the use of lethal military force.”
Panetta, an Afghanistan war veteran, said Congress has an obligation to provide clear guidance to troops.
“With this bipartisan legislation, we can meet our obligation to provide our service members with clear guidance as they fight to keep us safe,” he said. “We can also provide our constituents the assurance that, no matter who our commander-in-chief is, Congress will assert its constitutional authority to define the use of our military force around the world.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.