Almost 16 years to the day it was first passed, the Senate voted to table an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that would have repealed the 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) 61 to 36. This was the first time in 15 years the full Senate has voted on Congress’ role in initiating war.
“We have fought the longest war in U.S. history under an original authorization to go after the people who attacked us on 9/11,” said Paul on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “That war is long since over. The war has long since lost its purpose. And it’s a long time that — and it’s long time we have a debate in congress over whether we should be at war or not. It is the constitutional role of congress.”
The vote on the amendment was tabled over concerns a repeal of the AUMF without a direct replacement would put the country’s national security in danger. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called the amendment “premature” and “irresponsible,” however he expressed a need for an updated AUMF that is specific to the fight against ISIS. The White House, however, isn’t looking for changes to the 2001 authorization, according to Legislative Director Marc Short.
Paul’s amendment would have been a six month sunset on the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, the latter of which was a separate authorization for the war in Iraq. The six month window would have up opened debate to construct a newer, more specific AUMF.
The amendment received three no votes from Republicans: Paul himself, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). It also gained bipartisan support from Senators like Sen. Dick Durbin, who argued that when he initially voted for the authorization, he did not vote for endless war.
“Little did I realize having cast that vote, 15 or 16 years ago, that I wasn’t just voting to go after the terrorists responsible for 9/11. I was voting for the longest war in the history of the united States of America, a war that continues to this day in Afghanistan,” said Durbin. “I don’t think there was a single member of the senate, either party, on the floor who would have believed that that’s what we were voting for.”
There will soon be people fighting in a war who were not alive when the attacks on September 11, 2001 occurred. “Should one generation be able to bind another generation?” Paul asked. “Realize if we don’t force these authorizations to expire, this war could go on forever.”
The 60 words that comprise the AUMF have since been used to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries, including not just the war in Iraq, but also the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. These operations were allowed in part because of the authorization’s broad language:
“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.”
In late June, a repeal of the AUMF tied to an appropriations bill in the House of Representatives was adopted in the majority Republican House Appropriations Committee with all but one vote. It was proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who was the only member of both houses of Congress to vote against the measure, citing concerns over its broad language. The House Rules Committee, however, quietly stripped Lee’s amendment from a defense spending bill, arguing a defense spending bill isn’t the appropriate place to put legislation that sets policy.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly reported the final vote as 61-31. It was 61-36.