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What Is An AUMF and Does The President Need One?

by Countable | 4.7.17

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s missile strikes against Syria late Thursday night debate has re-emerged about the necessity of a current Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

Since WWII the U.S. has used the AUMF as opposed to a declaration of war to empower presidents to pursue large military objectives. A declaration of war legally empowers the executive branch in a variety of ways, while an AUMF usually has more specific parameters and boundaries:

"A ‘declaration of war’ has always been a specific policy tool -- a blunt one, and one that many presidents, and Congresses, have chosen not to use. ‘Authorizations,’ by contrast, permit the two branches to agree on limited war aims. An authorization can lapse without a formal surrender; it can permit military action short of total war."

Libertarian-leaning Republicans, like Sen. Rand Paul (KY), have argued that President Trump’s use of force Thursday night was unconstitutional, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that he both supported the missile strikes and felt they were within the president’s rights. He said:

"We passed one [an AUMF] back in 2001 and 2002, I believe, and the previous president thought that it authorized what we were doing in that part of the world, and I expect this president thinks the same."

Other congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have called for an AUMF prior to any further military actions against Syrian president Bashar-Al Assad. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has even called for congress to return from their planned Easter recess to debate and authorize any further military actions in the conflict. The House started an 18-day recess on Thursday afternoon and so far House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) hasn’t announced plans to call them back before the anticipated April 24 return. The Senate leaves for their recess Friday, and will return the same day.

The AUMF referred to by Sen. McConnell was issued after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks. It was a broad authorization with no restrictions on geography, type of action or military forces deployed. It also provided no concrete end goal or means to assess when the AUMF was no longer authorized. It states, simply:

"That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

The broadness of this AUMF allowed President George W. Bush and President Obama to pursue on-going conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East during their respective administrations. President Obama also tried to use it to support his goal of pursuing military action against the Syrian government in 2013 after massive chemical attacks against civilians. At that time Congress voted in opposition to his proposed actions, and the administration pursued diplomatic options to deal with the chemical threat.

In subsequent years, members of Congress have tried to create a new AUMF to address the ongoing war against terrorism, but efforts have stalled. Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a bill in 2015 that they are hoping to revive debate on. Supporters have argued for a new AUMF against ISIS that:

"is explicitly and exclusively directed at ISIS, prohibits the large-scale deployment of U.S. ground combat troops, and includes both a geographic limitation and a resolution clause based on agreed criteria for ending the military phase of the fight against ISIS."

Now that the administration’s military actions have focused specifically on the the Assad regime, Kaine and McCain’s legislation likely won’t speak to the present conflict, though many of the same boundaries on action will need to be addressed. If Congress does not return early from their Easter recess, expect the debate to begin as soon as they do.

Should Congress approve a new AUMF before the administration pursues any further military action in Syria? Use the Take Action button to let your reps know what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Public Domain)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(458)
  • Lesia
    04/08/2017
    ···

    Do you think the American people don't pay attention? Or do you just think we're stupid? We watched you constantly impede President Obama and now we see you allowing trumpelthinskin to run amok. For the love of all that is holy, rein that nut job in. Don't pretend you care about the Syrian people. You've made it crystal clear that you don't.

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  • Ingrid
    04/10/2017
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    As a retired military officer and veteran, I strongly feel that If further military action is anticipated, there should be an AUMF in place for it. Congress denied that to Obama for the previous and more egregious chemical attack in Syria, so Congress needs to debate and determine what future course should happen now. There needs to be input from military leaders as well as the State Department re possible/probable results as part of that deliberation. And consideration of followup plans based on various outcomes needs discussion as well. "Beware the law of unintended consequences!" e.g. Libya and Iraq.

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  • KXSLP
    04/10/2017
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    We do not live in a dictatorship. The president is not our Glorious Leader. Please remind those who have forgotten that we have THREE branches of government for a reason and if one branch supersedes the others we are no longer a democratic republic. Our current leader continually forgets that he serves the American people at their pleasure and that he is beholden to checks and balances moreso than your average American.

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  • Mahesh
    04/08/2017
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    Our president is not capable of making prudent decisions and is surrounded by a sycophants and warmongers - a dangerous combination. He must need authorization from congress before any military action.

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  • KansasTamale
    04/08/2017
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    MUFA is the reason President Obama did NOT use lethal force on Syria after the last attack by Asad. He asked Congress for permission to strike back st Syria & the Republican Congress didn't even acknowledge it the request. What hypocrites the Republicans are. If Obama had done what Trump did, they would have come unglued. They cheated Obama & the country & the Syrians out of striking against the Syrian dictator. They also cheated to get Gosuch on the SC rather than give Garland a hearing. Such a sad bunch to put our country in this fascist government possibility by cheating & being such pinheads.

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  • Bonita
    04/07/2017
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    Yes! This president is a loose canon!

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  • George
    04/08/2017
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    Please do not let the administration take further military action against Syria without congressional participation on the discussion of options. We need a check on impulsive behavior.

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  • IAmTheSenate
    04/08/2017
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    I was critical of Obama's interventionist tendencies and the same applies for Trump's newfound imperialist agenda. If the president wants to shoot missiles into a sovereign nation's territory, he needs authorization. It's simple checks and balances.

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  • Eric
    04/08/2017
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    There should be no more military action without congressional authorization. There should be consequences for the POTUS ordering the strike illegally.

    Like (46)
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  • Karen
    04/08/2017
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    Hell yes! This President is crazy!! Just trying to distract from investigation!!

    Like (29)
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  • Heather
    04/10/2017
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    Mr. Trump, as any president, should have a congressional authorization for the type of action taken in Syria. And other actions need to be thought ahead as well. Let's not have him start a war with North Korea. Mr. Trump needs to learn something about tdiplomacy.

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  • Sandra
    04/08/2017
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    Authorization from congress is absolutely necessary, especially with inexperienced and unpredictable people in the White House. The voters will have a long memory as 2018 approaches.

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  • debmorrow51
    04/07/2017
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    Well y'all made it clear the current authorization doesn't apply to Syria when Obama wanted it to do it doesn't apply to Syria now. So without a new authorization trump acted without authorization. This isn't rocket science. It's republican manipulation of course which is never rocket science but you can't have it both ways 🐢. New authorization or trump is out of line. You screwed the pooch on this one old man. Maybe it's time you retired to Louisville and lived off your wife's drug money.

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  • Ginger
    04/10/2017
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    I'm starting to get really concerned about the the knee-jerk reactions by our President. The checks and balances of the three branches of government put in place by the framers of our Constitution were put in place for a reason. This has never been more clear in my lifetime than it is today. I need my Senators and my Congressman to pull their heads out of the sand and see what a dangerous path we are on if Congress doesn't start to become the branch of the government that is a check on the Executive branch that right now so sorely needs one. The Judicial Branch has been doing a pretty good job so far on reining in the excessively broad travel bans. Now the Republican Congress needs to stop being yes-men and women and providing some balance. Get with the program!

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  • Sallie
    04/08/2017
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    Absolutely need confirmation from Congress. Not capable of making decisions regarding war. You all are weak and with no backbone for not reprimanding. Although, never been a fan of Paul, at least he stood front and center and took a stand. This is probably another bait and switch tactic that Trump is using to take the focus off his partnership with Putin. Never been political. At 63, feeling energized and can't wait to work hard to defeat you. You are not my representatives.

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  • kdub
    04/07/2017
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    This president does not deserve the public trust and there are no checks and balances to executive branch when Congress is controlled by same party. We are setting ourselves up for tyranny.

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  • Ed
    04/10/2017
    ···

    Do you think the American people don't pay attention? Or do you just think we're stupid? We watched you constantly impede President Obama and now we see you allowing trumpelthinskin to run amok. For the love of all that is holy, rein that nut job in. Don't pretend you care about the Syrian people. You've made it crystal clear that you don't.

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  • McD
    04/08/2017
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    Please require the president to pursue a AUMF before taking further military action against Syria.

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  • MIKAL
    04/08/2017
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    This is what republicans wanted for Obama... what you going to do now? This man could very easily lead us into WWIII and you have the chance to mitigate that risk. Please Congresswoman and Senators... do your job and operate as a check & balance ...qw1

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  • Daniel
    04/10/2017
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    Only Congress can declare war. Trump's Syria bombing was unconstitutional. Return to D.C. ASAP to exercise oversight.

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