Constitution Torpedoed as Paul Ryan Strips Rep. Lee's War Authorization Amendment from Pentagon Funding Bill
July 20, 2017
Barbara Lee / US House of Representatives & Anthony L. Fisher / The Week & Ellen Mitchell / The Hill
Earlier this week, it looked as though the war in Afghanistan (the longest sustained military conflict in US history) might soon come to an end -- because of one congresswoman who saw through the fog of fear and rage in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Barbara Lee has insisted that, under the US Constitution, Congress, not the President, is entrusted with the role of declaring war. But those hopes were dashed when Speaker Paul Ryan stripped Lee's amendment from the Pentagon Appropriations bill.
Ryan Torpedoes Rep. Lee's AUMF Amendment
Barbara Lee / US House of Representatives
Paul Ryan Torpedoes Rep. Lee's AUMF Amendment
Barbara Lee / US House of Representatives
WASHINGTON (July 19, 2017) -- Unbelievable.
Last night, in the middle of the night, Speaker Paul Ryan stripped my 2001 AUMF repeal amendment from the Department of Defense Appropriations bill.
This move is a slap in the face to the democratic process. Instead of listening to his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Paul Ryan stripped by amendment without even bringing it to a vote.
The 2001 AUMF gives any president a blank check for endless war, and with Donald Trump in the White House it is critical that we keep up the pressure. I hope you'll join me today to send a message to Paul Ryan that Congress must do its job and debate the use of military force.
When this authorization was passed nearly 16 years ago, I knew it would allow any president to wage war anywhere, for any reason, for any amount of time. Sadly, that is exactly what has happened.
I met with the Speaker last week to urge him to support my amendment and he refused. Now he's doing everything he can to undermine our effort to repeal the 2001 AUMF and maintain the status quo.
Congress must debate and vote on any new wars. Let's show Paul Ryan that the American people want Congress to take up this debate.
It is absurd that we continue to send our brave servicemen and women into danger zones when Congress will not honor its constitutional responsibility to authorize war.
Stand with me in our fight to repeal the outdated and overly broad 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. Together we'll send a message to Paul Ryan that it's past time for Congress to take up this debate.
Thank you for standing with me in this fight.
Is Congress Finally Going to Take Back its Power to Declare War?
Anthony L. Fisher / The Week
(July 5, 2017) -- The war in Afghanistan -- the longest sustained military conflict in American history -- could soon come to an end. So could any number of "humanitarian interventions," "kinetic military actions," "surgical strikes," or any other euphemisms for war that the US has relied upon for the past 16 years.
And it could happen because one congresswoman who saw through the fog of fear and rage in the days after the 9/11 attacks -- and presciently warned of the dangers of handing a blank check to the executive branch to wage war against an amorphous stateless enemy -- was able to convince her colleagues that it was well past time for Congress to do its job with regard to sending our service men and women into battle.
Last week, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) submitted an amendment into the House Appropriations Committee's 2018 defense spending bill that would repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force within 240 days of the bill's enactment.
The one-page act "applies with respect to each operation or other action that is being carried out pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force initiated before such effective date."
This means that authorization to continue the generation-long war in Afghanistan, the routine drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and the global battlefield that includes anywhere al Qaeda or its offshoot ISIS have set up shop, would revert to Congress rather than the president.
Lee -- who has previously proposed legislation to repeal the 2001 AUMF five times dating back to 2010 -- introduced the amendment with no preceding hype but won over other members of the committee in short order, including Republicans and military veterans, with Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) saying, "This is something where Congress has collectively avoided taking responsibility for years."
According to BuzzFeed, the amendment was passed via a voice vote "with a resounding chorus of 'ayes,' and only one or two 'nays'," which seemed to shock even Lee, who tweeted(in part) "Whoa" when announcing her amendment had been adopted.
President Trump is the third straight commander-in-chief to invoke the 2001 AUMF, most recently relying on it to justify strikes against government forces in Syria. Say what you will about the monstrous Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but he had nothing to do with 9/11 and the group who perpetrated the worst terror attack on US soil -- al Qaeda -- is one of Assad's mortal enemies.
Clearly, we've lost the narrative when we've become "al Qaeda's air force," as some critics of US military mission creep have put it.
Congressional Research Service wrote in a 2013 memo that the AUMF was "groundbreaking" because it "empowered the president to target non-state actors" and "did not specify with states and non-state actors were included."
As a result, the AUMF (which passed on Sept. 14, 2001 in the House by a vote of 420-1 and in the Senate 98-0, with Lee the lone dissenting vote) has been publicly relied on for at least 30 military actions, including in various countries Congress has not declared war upon, such as the Philippines, Georgia, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya, and Somalia.
Only three days after 9/11, Lee defended her vote against the AUMF -- for which she was widely pilloried as "anti-American" and a "supporter of America's enemies" -- as a plea to pause the march to war "just for a minute" so Congress could "think through the implications of our actions so that this does not spiral out of control."
With children born in 2001 eligible to join the military in less than two years, no reasonable person can look at the 2001 AUMF and assert that the "war on terrorism" has been won, nor does our current slate of foreign conflicts look anything like a direct military intervention against al Qaeda and the Taliban government of Afghanistan who harbored them. Rather, it looks more like what Lee feared: "a blank check to wage war anywhere, any time, for any length, by any president."
The fact that Lee's amendment calling for repeal of the AUMF was adopted does not mean it will pass, and it may not even be debated because of cross-committee procedural quarreling.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the House Foreign Affairs Committee cited House rules stating "a provision changing existing law may not be reported in a general appropriation bill," and added, "The Foreign Affairs Committee has sole jurisdiction over Authorizations for the Use of Military Force."
Whether or not this amendment survives, it's telling that so many in both parties and both houses of Congress have finally come around to see the danger in allowing for a "blank check" to use military force, as also demonstrated by a Senate draft resolution written by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to repeal both the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF against Iraq, which was discussed earlier this year.
Though Democrats tend to paint themselves as marginally less interventionist than Republicans, it was a shameful abdication of congressional duty that President Obama's party never demanded he prove his case for war for his many interventions (including the disastrous Libya campaign) over eight years in office.
To be sure, Republicans were barely more interested in taking a new vote over the use of military force, because if the mission succeeded, the credit would be Obama's. If it failed, the GOP could blame Obama.
So why did Lee's fellow committee members -- including Republicans and hawkish Democrats -- come over to her once unthinkably naïve and/or unpatriotic side?
Perhaps they fear that keeping the authority to wage unilateral war in the hands of President Trump isn't the best idea. Perhaps they accept that 16 years of endless war against an ever-redefined enemy without so much as a fact-based debate on the floor of Congress is enough.
Perhaps they simply recalled that war-making is constitutionally their job and it's well past time they took ownership of such a critical role. But whatever the reason, good for them. It's about time.
Paul Ryan, Barbara Lee Meet on War Authorization
Ellen Mitchell / The Hill
WASHINGTON (July 12, 2017) -- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) met Wednesday afternoon to hash out a possible new war authorization to replace a 2001 law that gives the president power to wage war on terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Lee's office confirmed to The Hill that the two met on the House floor to discuss Lee's amendment introduced late last month, which would repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and force Congress to vote on a new bill.
Lee offered the amendment to the House Appropriations defense bill. Surprisingly, both Republicans and Democrats backed Lee's argument, with the full committee eventually approving the amendment.
GOP leadership, however, was not pleased. Ryan said the amendment was a "mistake" in an interview with Real Clear Politics in late June.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong also confirmed that the two spoke on the House floor, but would not discuss the conversation.
"There is a way to discuss this debate, but this [amendment], which endangers our national security, is not it," Strong said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans also said the provision should have been ruled out of order, arguing it violates the House's rules and should be stripped from the bill.
But Lee appears unwilling to budge on her stance, telling Politico on Tuesday that stripping her amendment from the appropriations bill would be "a slap in the face" to the "democratic process."
Lee has tried for years to have the 2001 AUMF revoked for a more tailored war authorization bill, and was the only member of Congress to vote against the initial AUMF passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
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