In 2001, Congress granted the President virtually unlimited power to wage war. Granted, many didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s what they did. The bill passed was called the “Authorization to use Military Force” or “AUMF.” The original intent of the measure was to grant then-President George W. Bush “all the tools necessary” to fight Al Queda and their affiliates after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Because of vague language and loose interpretations of that language by that administration and subsequent ones, over the years the AUMF has been used to justify pretty much any military action and has allowed the President to essentially bypass Congress and act unilaterally.
Today, Congress took the first step towards ending that free ride. Ironically, the amendment that would end the AUMF’s authority was introduced not only by a Democrat, but the only member of the House of Representatives at the time to vote against the bill in 2001, Representative Barbara Lee of California. At the time, Lee said she voted against the AUMF because she foresaw it, saying:
“I knew then it would provide a blank check to wage war anywhere, anytime, for any length by any president.”
And that all pretty much came true. The authorization has been used 37 times in 14 countries since it was passed in 2001. Those numbers don’t even include military operations carried out by Donald Trump since taking office.
Lee’s amendment was first met with great resistance, but as the Appropriations Committee discussed and debated the bill, Lee actually began to win over Republicans. In fact, she won over all of them, except one.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) noted that Lee’s argument had changed his mind. “I was going to vote no, but we’re debating right now. I’m going to be with you on this and your tenacity has come through,” he said. “You’re making converts all over the place, Mrs. Lee,” joked House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).
Lawmakers actually applauded in “bi-partisan” fashion after the amendment was adopted. Well, all of them except one. Like it was mentioned before, one lawmaker did vote no. Kay Granger of Texas refused to join in on the “Kumbayah” spirit that overtook the House Committee. First, she complained that the amendment didn’t “belong” on the appropriations bill. Later, she followed up with statements that indicated she was more interested in preserving the executive power than anything else:
The AUMF “is necessary to fight the global war on terrorism,” she said. “The amendment is a deal breaker and would tie the hands of the U.S. to act unilaterally or with partner nations with regard to al Qaeda and … affiliated terrorism. It cripples our ability to conduct counterterrorism operations.”
Every single GOP lawmaker on the powerful committee disagreed with her, however.
Also, under the provision, the authority would be revoked only after 240 days beyond the bill’s passage. That gives the Congress sufficient time, in everyone but Granger’s mind, to decide what, if any, measures should be drawn up to replace it. Or perhaps they could just go back to what the Constitution says and allow only Congress to declare war. The bill and the amendment must survive the full House and Senate before any real action can take place, though.
Stay tuned …
Featured image via Appropriations.House.Gov