The Mercury News
Senate panel votes to repeal laws authorizing Iraq wars
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on Wednesday to repeal the 1991 law that authorized the Persian Gulf War and the 2002 law that authorized President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein, sending the resolution to the Senate floor.
The panel took that step by a 14-8 vote, with all Democrats and three Republicans — including Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, who co-sponsored the proposal with Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia — supporting it. The House already approved a similar step in June.
The vote was preceded by a debate over the scope and limits of President Joe Biden’s power to use military force against Iran. Biden has twice authorized missile strikes against Iranianbacked militias threatening U.S. forces — in Syria in February and in Syria and Iraq in June — citing his constitutional authority as commander in chief.
Several Republicans at the committee meeting on Wednesday said they supported the idea of repealing the 1991 and 2002 Iraq war authorizations, or at least saw no harm in it as a matter of substance, but worried that it would send a message of weakness to Iran.
Two Republicans, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, proposed amending the resolution with language that would have endorsed a broad view of the president’s power to attack Iran in support of American interests and without further congressional permission, but the committee voted the amendments down.
The committee vote came a day after Biden administration officials testified before a Senate panel, saying that both of the Iraq war laws were obsolete and were not being used anymore. Supporters of repealing them argue that it would be irresponsible to leave them on the books, lest a future president abuse the laws by claiming they amount to standing authorization to undertake new acts of warfare in the Middle East without coming to lawmakers for permission.
While presidents have some constitutional power to launch limited military operations on their own, a 1973 law — the War Powers Resolution — requires such missions to end after 60 days if they lack congressional blessing.
A senior State Department official at the hearing on Tuesday also addressed the far more complicated question of whether and how to tighten a much-stretched 2001 law that authorized war against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, and that now serves as the domestic legal basis for the open-ended “forever war” against terrorists around the world.
The deputy secretary of state, Wendy R. Sherman, favorably — but vaguely — cited ideas during the hearing to give Congress some role in any future decisions to expand counterterrorism operations to additional terrorist groups or to new countries, as well as to require periodic reviews of such groups and countries.
“I think that there is a lot of work to be done,” she said. “It may be that those kinds of ideas aren’t the right ones, but those are things that we are willing to discuss — as well as other things that the Senate might put on the table.”