Bill Hagerty pushes for updated AUMFs ahead of Senate vote to repeal them

A key Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is pushing for an alternative to an all-out repeal of the 2002 Iraq war authorization ahead of the Senate’s vote on the annual defense policy bill.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, has committed to tacking onto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) a measure repealing the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force (AUMF) against Iraq.

But Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican, says the U.S. could find itself flat-footed in the face of the threats from terrorists and Iranian-backed militants that persist in the region if the old AUMFs are not replaced with an updated authorization.

“After watching the Biden Administration’s ongoing appeasement to the Iran regime and its poorly planned, disastrously executed withdrawal from Afghanistan, I remain convinced that Congress must not only repeal the outdated authorizations but replace them with stronger, more strategically tailored approaches,” Mr. Hagerty said in a statement Thursday.

Mr. Hagerty said he will introduce an amendment to the NDAA aimed at ensuring the 2002 presidential authorization to use force is replaced with updated authority tailored toward the latest threats, rather than just repealed.

The House passed separate bills last month to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations, which provided the legal justification for the Gulf War and 2003 invasion of Iraq, respectively.

The Senate vote is the last measure needed to strike them off the books for good. The repeal of the AUMFs would be the first rollback of presidential war powers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Critics have long said presidents of both parties have abused the authorizations, acting as if they had given them a free hand.

“After the fall of Saddam Hussein, presidents have continued to stretch the use of the 2002 AUMF for purposes wildly beyond what any member who voted for that resolution [had ever] intended,” Sen. Robert C. Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said earlier this week.

Then-President Obama cited the authorization in 2014 as legal authority to send troops to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In 2020, President Trump cited the 2002 authorization as the legal basis for carrying out the drone strike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani while he was in Iraq.

President Biden has registered his support for repealing the authorizations and has strayed from previous administrations’ tendency to lean on the 2002 AUMF for engagements in the region.

He cited Article II of the Constitution, which gives him the right to defend members of the U.S. armed forces as their commander-in-chief, as the basis for ordering airstrikes on Iran-backed militia fighters in Iraq and Syria in February and June.

Nonetheless, some Republicans argue that the repeal without a clear replacement could send the wrong message to Iran and other U.S. adversaries.

“While the administration cited Article II authorities as the legal basis for recent strikes, I’m concerned with the practical impacts of repealing the 2002 AUMF,” Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a committee markup on the measure in August.

Mr. Risch also said some statutory authority is necessary to deter foreign adversaries in Tehran and elsewhere.

“The Biden administration’s policy of less than robust responses to attacks against U.S. interests have clearly failed to restore deterrence. Having said that, it’s all the more important that we underscore the message that we are trying to send,” he said.

Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, argued during the markup that there is little upside to repealing the AUMF and that the move could be misconstrued.

Mr. Hagerty said he agrees with his Democratic colleagues that the authorizations are outdated, but he said the repeal without a replacement authorization would undermine U.S. leverage in the region.

“The authority to declare war lies with Congress, but for decades Democrats and Republicans have irresponsibly ceded more and more authority to the Executive Branch,” Mr. Hagerty said Thursday.

“It is long overdue for these Saddam-era AUMFs to be repealed, but as a business person and former diplomat, I firmly believe it’s foolish to take a card off the table unless you’re going to put one down that’s stronger, especially when adversaries continue to attack you,” he said.