Congress Timidly Approaches Old Debate Over New Authorization to Fight ISIS

With the Pentagon presenting its plan to defeat ISIS to President Donald Trump on Monday and as American involvement in the civil war in Yemen heats up, lawmakers are gearing up for an old debate: efforts to pass new authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs) to grant the Trump administration congressional approval for military action against ISIS and others.

Congress has used the same authorization bill to allow for action in the Middle East for about 16 years. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced legislation for a new authorization of U.S. military force in the war against “Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, successor organizations, and associated forces” on Friday.

If passed, the bill would satisfy the demands of some members of Congress who argue that the current practice of applying the AUMFs passed in the wake of 9/11 to the fight against ISIS is unconstitutional. Young’s AUMF bill may also appeal to some Democratic members who have advocated for the repeal of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Likewise, a bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) two weeks ago to demand that he either ask for an AUMF request from the Trump administration or bring forward AUMF legislation for debate in the House chamber. The letter conveyed members’ fears that Congress’ inability to pass an AUMF under the Obama administration had set a “dangerous precedent” in which the president may exercise free reign in military affairs without Congressional approval. The letter concluded:

“It is vital that Congress reasserts its institutional prerogatives and takes up its constitutional duties in matters of war and peace by explicitly authorizing military engagement abroad.”

The passage of a new AUMF depends upon Republican leadership, however. Explicitly authorizing military action is a political gamble, but one that lawmakers who were reluctant to act under the Obama administration should be more willing to make under today’s Republican-controlled government.

In 2015, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he wouldn’t support the Obama administration’s AUMF proposal because he believed it would tie the hands of the next president:

“He or she may have a different view about the way to deal with ISIS and that part of the world. I don’t think we ought to be passing an AUMF as the president exits the stage.”

When contacted for comment, a representative for McConnell’s office indicated that the Senator hadn’t read Young’s legislation yet, but would be reviewing it in the coming days.

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