US Senators Target Some Presidential War Powers

The bipartisan resolution follows Biden’s airstrikes on Syria last week.

Sen. Tim Kaine. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

By Jessica Corbett
Common Dreams

As frustration is building among federal lawmakers over President Joe Biden’s recent retaliatory airstrikes on facilities in Syria that the administration said belonged to Iran-backed militia groups, a bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced legislation to rein in some of the president’s war powers.

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) reintroduced a resolution (pdf) to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq. The measure — which notably leaves out the 2001 AUMF that passed after the 9/11 attacks — is co-sponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Chris Coons (D-DE.), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Rand Paul (R-KY).

“Last week’s airstrikes in Syria show that the executive branch, regardless of party, will continue to stretch its war powers,” Kaine said in a statement. “Congress has a responsibility to not only vote to authorize new military action, but to repeal old authorizations that are no longer necessary.”

“The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs that underpinned the war against Iraq need to be taken off the books to prevent their future misuse,” he added. “They serve no operational purpose, keep us on permanent war footing, and undermine the sovereignty of Iraq, a close partner. I call on Congress to promptly take up this measure and for the Biden administration to support it to finally show the American people that the Article I and II branches can work together on these issues.”

The move came as Biden is facing criticism from lawmakers and legal scholars over the Feb. 25 “revenge” bombing that served as an official response to a series of rocket attacks on Iraqi military bases that host U.S. troops. There was another rocket attack just hours before the resolution’s introduction.

“If we assess a further response is warranted, we will take action again in a manner and time of our choosing and we reserve that option,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “What we won’t do is make a hasty or ill-informed decision that further escalates the [situation] or plays into the hands of our adversaries.”

Duckworth, a veteran, said in a statement that “as a nation, we are long overdue to have a thorough and honest reckoning about responsibly exercising congressional war powers, which includes repealing outdated authorities like the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs. For decades, administrations of both parties have kept these authorizations on the books to justify military action in the region without returning to Congress to make their best legal case for the need for such action.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and Black Hawk pilot whose helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004, shown in 2000 while serving as captain in the Illinois Army National Guard. (US Army, Robert Adams)

Politico reported Tuesday that some lawmakers — including Kaine — are frustrated that Biden did not notify them about Syria, ordered the strikes without seeking congressional approval, and still hasn’t had a briefing for senators.

“I still need to be convinced that any president has the authorization required to take a retaliatory strike, especially outside of Iraq,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who sat in on the briefing for Senate aides. “I didn’t hear anything today that convinced me that there was justification that I’d apply to any administration.”

Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, told Politico that he learned about the strikes “on the news” and “I don’t think I should be learning about it that way.” He added that because Biden served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, “he should understand more than most — more than just virtually anybody — that the Article I branch has got to have a role here.”

Though Kaine and other co-sponsors referenced the Syria strikes in their comments about the proposal, Lawfare noted that Biden did not rely on any AUMF in his legally required report to Congress on the action  — he only cited his constitutional authority as chief executive and commander-in-chief.

“This is not surprising,” Lawfare added. “Although the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations cited the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs as continuing authority to use force in Iraq and Syria (including against the Islamic State), members of Congress of both parties have grown increasingly uncomfortable as successive presidents have stretched the 2001 and 2002 authorizations beyond their original purposes — the latter authorization especially so.”

While the Kaine-Young resolution doesn’t address the 2001 AUMF, Congress faced mounting pressure to end that authorization even before Biden authorized airstrikes last week.

As Common Dreams reported in mid-February, an ideologically diverse coalition of 25 groups sent a letter calling on lawmakers to “reorient U.S. foreign policy away from the unaccountable, interventionist approach we’ve seen for nearly two decades” by sunsetting the 2001 AUMF and repealing the 2002 AUMF. Some of those same organizations backed a letter to Biden demanding an end to “endless wars.”

The first letter specifically called on lawmakers to support legislation on those two authorizations from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) — the only member of Congress who opposed the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that led to the longest-ever U.S. war.

“The strike in Syria exemplifies why Congress must take action to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMF,” Lee tweeted after the attack. “No single person should have the power to authorize military force. The era of forever wars must end.”

This article is from Common Dreams.

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16 comments for “US Senators Target Some Presidential War Powers

  1. Anne
    March 5, 2021 at 13:24

    All Empires disintegrate and fall and it is about time, indeed more than so…Instead of using taxpayer dollars to enrich the MICIMATT beyond Mammon’s dreams while slaughtering other peoples, destroying their lands and societies as we have done from the Korean War onward (and those taxpayers do not include the very wealthy), and to fund a certain country deep in the ME, we should be using every penny to improve the lives and prospects of our citizens….But hey, no juicy baksheesh for the politicos and their comrades in DC if that were what took place…

  2. evelync
    March 4, 2021 at 16:22

    Sorry, I’m already sick of Joe Biden….although I’ve been sick of him since Anita Hill, the for profit prisons, being a facilitator for the short sighted oligarchs’ self serving demands, his shameless pandering speech on Ukraine at the Council on Foreign Affairs and his bizarre ideas on foreign policy – for example – his solution to the “sectarian” violence in Iraq following Rumsfeld Cheney Bush horrific Shock and Awe would be to dividing Iraq into 3 parts Shia, Sunni and Kurd…..
    Too bad there were marriages of a Shia person to a Sunni person and these people got along fine before our vicious assault.
    Wes Clark at the time asked rhetorically – exactly which streets would be used for the dividing lines…..
    Joe Biden has absolutely no judgement wrt foreign policy. None. Dumb as a post.
    Why Joe? – you have plenty of problems here at home. Why start a bombing campaign on anyone? What are you thinking?
    How about sitting down in front of a camera and explaining to the people of this country exactly what your foreign policy is and why?
    Try to make some sense. Try to persuade us that you know what you’re doing not just going off half cocked.
    Stop repeating all the horrific knee jerk mistakes based on Cold War rhetoric that has failed us. Most Americans including those who serve are sick at heart about this misuse, abuse of resources…you’re not proving anything except that you’re caught in the Washington DC bubble and scared to think outside that destructive chaotic box.
    You want some respect? Grow up…take responsibility….show some courage.

  3. rosemerry
    March 4, 2021 at 15:49

    This word”retaliatory” gives the impression that the murders were to pay back Syria for daring to attack the USA which is ILLEGALLY in Iraq as well as in Syria.
    This is what we see every time that Israel “retaliates” , killing Palestinians allegedly terrorising innocent Israelis( in stolen land.) Our shared democratic values, I assume.

    • March 4, 2021 at 16:34

      rosemerry – I agree.
      Can somebody please tell the so-called “leaders” of Israel that the times they are a changing. Really – somebody, somebody out there, somebody with authority needs to tell them this, cause otherwise…..I won’t even say it.
      But I’ll say this – some things are staring us in the face and they are so obvious and some folks need to honest to goodness just realize that Israel, the current country as said, is NOT and has NOT been an instrument of peace for so long that we all ought know by now. Some things are obvious, and if the “world” can’t figure this out, then are fate is sealed along with that of Israel, whom I just said is NOT an instrument of peace. What kind of “God” wants that I ask?
      Time for some comeuppance for that misguided country and all their leaders – they’ve gone to such an extreme they have turned themselves into a scourge upon humanity. Mind you – I’m not talking about the Jewish faith – oh no, I’m talking about the leaders of the country of Israel. Frankly, they have not been a good neighbor for some time now, and again – some things are obvious.
      Only question left now is if somebody is going to do something about it. I already have.

      • Anne
        March 5, 2021 at 13:17

        No Mr B Ken – the world is fully aware, but a) inconvenient to raise the issue; b) fear of the usual accusations and loss of funding…

        • March 5, 2021 at 15:28

          Ms. Anne no offense but “screw that”.
          I read elsewhere that Russia sent a not difficult to interpret message to Israel regarding the excursions they have been conducting in Syria. I sure hope the leaders in Israel paid attention to that message because otherwise if they continue sending missions into places that truly are none of their business, then it begs the question – do they have a death wish?
          At a minimum assuming they do, which all evidence points to, hopefully the only ones who suffer the outcome are those poor grunts who have been assigned the “death mission”. You would think there are some mothers out there who don’t want their sons and daughters to die. Hopefully that is the case. Either that, or maybe there are some with the courage to say no and refuse to carry out an unethical mission. They may die a martyr for doing as such, but then that would just prove the point and more would recognize the reality of it.
          The current country of Israel is NOT and instrument of peace, and has not been for a long time, but for heaven’s sake it doesn’t need to stay that way does it? I hope not because there is chance my family’s life depends upon wiser minds overcoming those who are fixated upon WAR. And apartheid is apartheid wherever it occurs in the world.
          Peace is easy but not easy-peasy and Israel needs some comeuppance for its own sake.

  4. William H Warrick III MD
    March 4, 2021 at 15:06

    They finally figured they have a Demented Old Man in charge of the Third String and the Scrubs in the Defense and State Departments and a VP who is in Deep Water and doesn’t know how to swim. It is always wise to be careful of what you wish for because you might get it.

  5. Mike Maddden
    March 4, 2021 at 14:24

    Another round of hand wringing as the the war machine grinds on. As Jessica Corbett points out, Biden did not invoke the AUMF. Repealing it, or tweaking the War Powers Act, will not deter Biden or the next imperialist president.

    What is needed at this moment is an international arrest warrant for Biden. He committed an act of military aggression against the sovereign nation of Syria. Of course most of the Washington blob is in full support of the bombing, and even those who who meekly pooh-pooh it would never hand Biden over to the International Criminal Court.

    But perhaps someday soon there will be an international sheriff big enough to do the job. America’s defenders are shrinking fast.

  6. March 4, 2021 at 13:36

    Hopefully this won’t fall under the category of “too little too late”.
    If you “give up” your Constitutional authority out of fear, then it becomes “de-facto” and really, I think the chances of getting it back are slim. Still, I applaud the effort. At the same time, I can’t believe how fearful all the Representatives and Senators in what seems to be a made up city in DC that only serves a few, have become. In my youth there were real leaders, but lately their ain’t nothing but a bunch of kabuki theatre cheerleaders as bets I can tell, and some of them are seriously getting long in the tooth. Can’t they just retire for Christ’s sake – I want them out of there, but you and I both know, we don’t always get what we want.
    I think what is really needed though is for 2/3rds of the state assemblies to call for a Constitutional Convention per Article V and then perhaps and possibly there could be some well-thought out remedy. BUT, if Julian Assange dies in prison or is extradited, then that tells me all I need to know, and all bets are off on achieving things the “easy way”. Presently, I remain mystified as to why the man is holed up in Belmarsh, and the signs are ominous. He may already be dead for all I know.
    We all know change is coming big time and it will be quantum in nature and I pray that this will occur bloodlessly. In a way, I think that is basically the only way we will all get to sense any future change, cause if it don’t happen bloodlessly, I’ve basically concluded that we will all be dead after some psychopath (of which there are too many for comfort) pushes the metaphorical button so to speak. Sorry to be blunt about it, but that is how it seems to me. If you have another idea, and it is peaceful, then I am all ears. I’m all about finding and implementing solutions. I want something better – what do you want?
    Yours Truly,
    p.s. – Plans are being formulated as I type this and I have hope in the human spirit, but lets be honest – the times are precarious and if you are living in “pretend-world” for the sake of comfort you are NOT helping – you are actually part of the problem, so please consider that.

  7. David Otness
    March 4, 2021 at 12:34

    “What we won’t do is make a hasty or ill-informed decision that further escalates the [situation] or plays into the hands of our adversaries.” – Psaki

    “….are frustrated that Biden did not notify them about Syria, ordered the strikes without seeking congressional approval, and still hasn’t had a briefing for senators.”

    Those two separate statements give me pause as to just who Psaki’s “We” are, and also give me qualms about the plausibility if not actual possibility that a select group of young hotshots aren’t pulling an old and seriously in mental decline man’s strings for decision making on matters such as these. To wit, I wonder in a worst case scenario, at what point are they even going to bother to notify Biden. I can’t help it, I’ve seen plenty if not too much from these people on the world stage previously. I put nothing past them.

    We, some of us, were looking at scenarios such as this as soon as the die was cast in the DNC imperative choice for who their candidate would be.
    And I smell Clinton Inc every time Kamala Harris’s name gets mentioned.

    • Curious
      March 4, 2021 at 17:20

      You make an interesting, if not scary point. As far as people in the background go, why did Biden bring back Victoria Nuland, of Ukraine coup fame, and Stephanie Powers as well? A died in the wool neo-con and ‘humanitarian bombing’ guru from the past.
      They both wanted to flatten Syria, and now they are living in the shadows behind Biden, who was deep into the Ukraine coup himself, and actually wanted to bomb Iraq 2 years before the US ever did.
      “Clinton Inc” indeed.

  8. Randolph L Garrison
    March 4, 2021 at 12:13

    Senator Kane,
    I consider this a good day. I have never agreed with the war powers handed to the president. They have always misused them to keep themselves in office or win an election. Congress needs to review the 9/11 evidence and bring charges aginest Bush, the investigations are all posted on you tube.

    Please keep up the good work.

  9. Nels.Wight
    March 4, 2021 at 10:33


  10. Sally
    March 4, 2021 at 09:13

    There is no question that Americans are sick and tired of these endless wars and war budgets undertaken by presidents with the influence of military and intelligence warhawks to use false powers like the AUMF , powers which belong to Congress, to show their power. This only shows the weakness of the U.S. and the weakness of the people we have elected. It’s time to hold them all accountable.

  11. Sally Snyder
    March 4, 2021 at 08:49

    As shown in this article, Congress is also proposing legislation that will dramatically change the presidential prerogative on the use of nuclear weapons:


    While these proposals add steps to the nuclear engagement strategy that is already in place, it does little to actually reduce America’s reliance on a modernized nuclear arsenal that runs the risk of destroying the planet.

  12. TimN
    March 4, 2021 at 08:15

    Its a little late in the day for this, isn’t it? So, they’re pissed that they weren’t informed?Every single one of those Senators is down with the overthrow of the Venezuelan government and installation of the right wing stooge Guaido, so I’m finding it difficult to show sympathy for their outrage of the day. Its especially rich coming from Duckworth, who “served” in the criminal Iraq war and used that tour (and her grievous injuries) every chance she got to contrast her pointless “sacrifice” with that of “traitor” Trump. What world are these Senators living in? Anyway, the Dems short stint in the spotlight will likely end soon, what with their utter lack of concern for the domestic catastrophes they’re going right along with.

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