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Niger Attack Reinvigorates Calls For Congress to Debate War Authorization

by Countable | 10.24.17

What’s the story?

The October 4 attack on U.S. forces in Niger that left four American service members dead has reinvigorated calls for debate in Congress around war authorization. Bipartisan attempts to force debate have increased since the beginning of the current administration. Now Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has joined the voices urging that the issue be given time for open floor debate.

Why does it matter?

Prior to President Donald Trump’s inauguration there were calls for Congress to formally debate war authorization, called an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), but they seemed to fall on deaf ears. The existing AUMF was put in place in 2001/2002 after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) famously was the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF, which is still being used today to justify military actions like the troop efforts in Niger. At the time she argued that the authorization was too broad and would lead to endless war. With the conflict in Afghanistan now in its seventeenth year, the longest war in U.S. history, there are many who now see her point.

Lee attempted to include an amendment in the House defense appropriations bill that would have repealed the existing AUMF and forced debate on the boundaries of a new one. The amendment passed through committee unanimously, but was later stripped from the bill by GOP leadership before the bill was voted on by the entire House.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) brought the debate to the Senate in mid-September, threatening to sit in on the Senate floor until his measure to end the existing AUMF within 6 months received a vote. After some negotiating, a vote was held which tabled Paul’s amendment.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who opposed Paul’s amendment in September but has called for a new war authorization, is now formally moving the debate forward via the Armed Forces Committee, which he chairs. According to Politico, McCain told reporters that, motivated in part by actions in Niger, he and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Jack Reed (RI), are drafting a proposal.

Another proposal has been in the works, authored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), under the umbrella of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), scheduled a hearing to discuss war powers on October 30.

The White House has expressed openness to a new AUMF, though they maintain, like the previous administration, that the 2001/2002 AUMF gives them adequate authorization for current military actions.

What do you think?

Should Congress debate a new war authorization?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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