White House backs repeal of 2002 war authorization

The White House is backing a bill getting a vote in the House this week that would repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War.

“The administration supports the repeal of the 2002 AUMF [authorization for the use of military force], as the United States has no ongoing military activities the rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis, and repeal of the 2002 AUMF would likely have minimal impact on current military operations,” the White House said Monday in a statement of administration policy.

The statement comes ahead of an expected House vote later this week on a bill from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that would repeal the 2002 AUMF.

The House voted last year and in 2019 to repeal the 2002 AUMF, but the repeal was never taken up by the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.

Efforts to repeal it were revived this year amid a push to rein in presidential war powers after President Biden ordered an airstrike on Iran-backed militias in Syria in February in retaliation for militia attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq.

The Biden administration cited as its legal justification for the strike its constitutional authority to defend U.S. personnel, not an AUMF. But the strike still sparked renewed efforts by lawmakers to repeal and replace existing AUMFs.

In March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 28-19 largely along party lines to advance Lee’s bill repealing the 2002 AUMF. Two Republicans, Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.) and Peter Meijer (Mich.), voted with Democrats in support of the bill.

Those who supported repealing it argued it is outdated and no longer necessary since it long ago served its purpose of allowing the military to go after former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But opponents of the repeal effort argued taking the 2002 AUMF off the books would hamstring U.S. counterterrorism missions, saying it should not be repealed until a replacement for the 2001 AUMF is agreed to.

The 2002 AUMF allows military action to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” 

The Trump administration cited the 2002 AUMF in part for its legal justification in the 2020 drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The 2002 authorization has also occasionally been cited to bolster legal arguments in the fight against ISIS, though the main authorization cited for that war has been the 2001 AUMF.

The 2001 AUMF is likely to pose the most difficulty in renewed congressional efforts on war powers.

The 2001 AUMF authorized military action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks but has since been used to justify military action in more than a dozen countries against disparate terrorist groups.

The White House has signaled it is willing to work with Congress on crafting a more narrow war authorization and reiterated that position in Monday’s statement.

“The president is committed to working with 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,” Monday’s statement said.

While there is bipartisan agreement the 2001 AUMF is outdated, past congressional efforts on a replacement have all stalled amid partisan fights over the details, including whether to impose limits on time, geography and types of forces.

While Monday’s statement does not address those issues, it signaled the fight over the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches that has also stymied past efforts is still at play.

As it works with Congress on a replacement, the White House wants to ensure Congress “has a clear and thorough understanding of the effect of any such action and of the threats facing U.S. forces, personnel and interests around the world,” the statement said. 

“As the administration works with Congress to reform AUMFs, it will be critical to maintain the clear authority to address threats to the United States’ national interests with appropriately decisive and effective military action,” the statement added. 

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