Roughly 32 years ago, Congress approved its first authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, in Iraq. Another AUMF for Iraq was approved 11 years later, in 2002, approving further action in the country after the September 11 terrorist attacks. More than two decades later, Congress is a step closer to repealing these authorizations, formally bringing the Gulf and Iraq wars to a close. True AUMF buffs know that this isn’t the first time that lawmakers have tried to repeal these measures—but a new momentum is threatening the inertia that has kept them in place.
The legislation to repeal these authorizations has bipartisan, bicameral support: It was reintroduced by Senators Tim Kaine and Todd Young in the Senate and Representatives Barbara Lee, Chip Roy, Abigail Spanberger, and Tom Cole in the House on Thursday. “The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs are no longer necessary, serve no operational purpose, and run the risk of potential misuse. Congress owes it to our servicemembers, veterans, and families to pass our bill repealing these outdated AUMFs and formally ending the Gulf and Iraq wars,” Kaine said in a statement.
What’s different this time? The reintroduced bill has renewed momentum to repeal the authorizations, as the legislation has picked up new Republican sponsors in both chambers. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer committed to “work with [Senators] Kaine and Young to move this bipartisan legislation to the Senate floor soon, so that the Senate can pass it quickly.”
“Every year we keep this authorization to use military force on the books is another chance for a future president to abuse or misuse it. War powers belong squarely in the hands of Congress, and that implies that we have a responsibility to prevent future presidents from hijacking this AUMF to bumble us into a new war,” Schumer said.
Young, the lead Republican sponsor in the Senate, told me that he believed the legislation has a “strong chance of meeting with success” this year, compared to the previous years that it’s been introduced. “Each time, support grows a bit, and we’ve seen that this go-around. So I’m optimistic,” Young said. Support for the bill spans the ideological spectrum, with 11 Republican senators as co-sponsors—more than enough to meet the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster, should the legislation also have support from all 51 Democrats.
The bill’s future in the House is somewhat murkier. Republicans now hold the majority in the House, and it’s unclear whether leadership would want to bring the bill to the floor. Cole, one of the Republican co-sponsors of the bill, told me on Thursday that he did not think “that decision has been made one way or the other.” But while Republican leadership may not see an AUMF repeal as an “urgent issue,” Cole argued that meant “we should deal with it now, without the heat of the moment.”
Representative Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, acknowledged to reporters on Thursday that passing a repeal in the House could be difficult, but said he would work with committee Chair Michael McCaul on the issue. “If the committee can come together, then I think that we can lead and convince some other folks,” Meeks said. “Congress has the sole discretion to determine when we go and utilize force to declare war; that’s our responsibility. We need not shirk that responsibility to the White House.”
The 2001 authorization for use of military force, passed the week after the September 11 attacks, has previously been a sticking point in discussions over a repeal of the 2002 AUMF. The 2001 AUMF has been used repeatedly by administrations of both parties as justification for involvement in multiple countries, although the original language of the legislation refers specifically to the September 11 attacks. There have been bipartisan calls to revise that AUMF, including a 2018 bill by Kaine and former GOP Senator Bob Corker.
In 2021, the White House signaled its support for the House legislation to repeal the 2002 AUMF, saying that it “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.” “The President is committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats,” the White House said in a statement.
While the 2001 AUMF appears to be off the table for now, there appears to be growing consensus that the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs related specifically to Iraq are outdated and unnecessary.
“Saddam Hussein’s not in Iraq anymore,” Cole said. “It’s kind of hard to justify why we would leave something like that on the books.”