A new proposal introduced Monday by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., would better codify the country's now 17-year-old war on terror.
The action, which is months in the crafting, comes days after the United States, in conjunction with Great Britain and France, responded with military strikes on chemical weapons facilities in Syria after the Middle East country's apparent use of chemical weapons on its citizens.
The senators' proposal would update and replace the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that passed Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. However, the coordinated attack on Syria would not have been affected by a new AUMF.
"Many voices were crying out to weigh in on an AUMF," Corker told this page Monday. "Seventy-five percent of Congress [members] have never voted on an AUMF."
"For as long as I have helped lead the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, beginning as ranking member in 2013, we have been engaged in a discussion over the 2001 AUMF, which provides the legal authority necessary to fight terror abroad. There have been a number of efforts over the years to update these authorities, and while there is still work ahead, I am pleased that we have reached an agreement on a product for the committee to consider and that I hope will ultimately strike an appropriate balance of ensuring the administration has the flexibility necessary to win this fight while strengthening the rightful and necessary role of Congress. I thank my colleagues for their leadership on this important issue and look forward to a healthy debate and amendment process in our committee next week."
— U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
The former Chattanooga mayor said the legislation gives presidential administrations all the flexibility they need to fight terrorism but keeps Congress involved.
Various critics of the new proposal have said it's both too narrow and too wide, so passage may be an uphill battle.
We think, more than anything, it's worth debating. The same wide net cast in the previous AUMFs is still being used today. Since the war on terrorism has spread from Iraq and Afghanistan to Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia, just to name a few places, the authorizing legislation should better fit the mission.
The proposal specifically names the terror groups the U.S. can respond to — ISIS, al-Qaida and the Taliban — but also offers the term "associated forces," which likely would be splinter groups of the original three. It notes that it "does not provide authority for military action against any nation state," and notes that any new designated associated force or country must be reported to Congress.
If events warrant, a president would be authorized to immediately use force against a new associated force or in a new country but would need to report to Congress within 48 hours. That, then, triggers a 60-day period in which legislation to remove the force would be expedited. If Congress took no action, the existing authority would remain in place.
It also would establish a process for congressional review every four years — without a lapse in authority — at which time the legislative branch could amend, leave in place or repeal the president's authority. If Congress fails to enact new legislation after a given 60-day period, the existing authority would remain in place.
Corker said even with the potential new oversight by Congress, the majority of power still would rest with a presidential administration. If Congress repeals the authorization of force, a president can veto it. To overcome a veto, both houses of Congress then would require a two-thirds vote. In other words, say, a Democratic Congress would not be able to express its hatred of President Trump simply by revoking the authorized use of force.
"Congress is partisan," he said, "but not that partisan. [A veto] is a stiff, stiff hurdle to overcome."
Some critics say by not defining the regions where the terror groups are operating and not giving the use of force a sunset date still gives the president a fairly blank check on skirmishes around the world.
Unfortunately, the war of terror isn't now, and wasn't 17 years ago, your father's war. It wasn't one country versus another, or several countries against several other countries. So while no one should want unlimited war, the president should have enough latitude to respond where appropriate measures are needed.
If the proposal had limitations on regions, Corker said, Republicans wouldn't vote for it.
"It's about right [on the amount of oversight for a president and Congress]," Corker said. "Look, if it doesn't pass, it doesn't pass. I'm honoring a commitment I made" to put legislation on the table "that can pass and hits all the right points."
If Democrats don't vote for it, he said, the wide-ranging, long-standing AUMFs that 75 percent of Congress members haven't voted on stay in place.
Whether the proposal will gain traction is anybody's guess. Congress has been attempting to pass a new AUMF for almost the entire time the current ones have been law — through both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
Corker said the Trump administration is not opposing the legislation and is likely to remain silent "unless they see twists and turns that are damaging."
He said Secretary of State designee Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all have expressed their belief in the need of a role for Congress if U.S. forces are "in harm's way."
Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would like to see consideration of the legislation begin by the end of April. Others have suggested a longer, slower slog through the proposal is warranted.
We believe 17 years is long enough — especially given the water, er, terror, that has passed under the bridge — to still be using the same AUMFs. The world is not the same, and neither should our authorization to get involved be the same.