Time to Pass an AUMF Targeting ISIS

Time to Pass an AUMF Targeting ISIS
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl April Price
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On January 28, President Trump directed his administration to develop a “comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS,” including a preliminary draft within 30 days.  Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly briefed top officials this week on the preliminary plan. 

When the Trump administration completes its plan, Congress will have another opportunity to finally fulfill its Constitutional responsibility to grant or withhold authority to conduct combat operations against ISIS.

As a new member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I believe it is long past time for Congress to consider and pass an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS and send a clear message to our troops in harm’s way that we support them and have their backs.    

As they have done throughout our nation’s history, members of our armed forces are once again bravely serving and fighting overseas to keep us safe, and it is important for them and their families to know that Americans and their representatives in Congress stand with them.

In addition to providing our troops the necessary resources for victory, the best way for Congress to express that support is to consider and pass a well-formulated AUMF.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution clearly states that Congress has the power “to declare war.”  Yet, two-and-a-half years after the U.S. began bombing ISIS—and with thousands of Americans already on the ground in Iraq and Syria—Congress has failed to exercise this fundamental Constitutional responsibility. 

The American people have a right to expect better from Congress.

Undoubtedly, many in Congress, including members of both parties on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have introduced legislation and made good faith efforts to pass an AUMF focused on ISIS.  Still, the simple fact remains that Congress as an institution has failed to fulfill its Constitutional responsibility.  We will soon have an opportunity to debate the President’s plan and to extend or withhold our authorization for its implementation. 

More is at stake than an abstract legal requirement. 

As students of history, our founders understood that the decision to go to war represented one of the gravest and most serious decisions any government faces.  To avoid foolish, hasty, unnecessary, or perpetual wars that tend to accrue debt and erode liberty, the founders wisely divided war powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

While the founders clearly designated the President to serve as Commander-in-Chief, the founders granted to Congress an impressive list of enumerated powers related to war centering on the power to declare war.

The founders intended—and the Constitution demands—that Congress play a decisive role in the decision to go to war—not act as a rubber stamp or passive observer.

For much of American history, Congress took that Constitutional responsibility seriously.  According to the Congressional Research Service, since our nation’s founding, Congress has passed 11 separate formal declarations of war against foreign nations and at least 70 other statutory provisions authorizing the use of military forces for various purposes, including engaging in hostilities. Yet, since World War II, Congress has routinely waived its Constitutional duty to assert its explicit war powers.  Not surprisingly, Congressional inaction has resulted in a consolidation of war powers in the executive branch that many of our founding fathers would have found concerning and unhealthy for our republic. 

There is little doubt that the President has the authority to utilize military force in short-term cases of immediate national emergency, but no reasonable definition of such an instance could or should include the engagement of U.S. military forces in protracted hostilities in foreign countries absent a declaration of war or authorization of Congress.

It is worth noting that the Obama administration urged Congress to pass an AUMF against ISIS but also argued that the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs provided the necessary legal authority for military operations, but it is past time to reassert Congress’s proper role in authorizing the use of military force against ISIS, an organization that didn’t even exist in 2001. 

While these questions regarding the legal foundation for the war against ISIS demonstrate the need for a new AUMF, when one considers the courage and sacrifice of our service members and their families, the case for Congressional action and an AUMF focused on ISIS seems even clearer.

I recognize that members of Congress will have different views on the optimal nature of an AUMF focused on ISIS and that the details for a new AUMF will matter.  We should seek to build consensus and make principled compromises where possible, but we should move forward without delay. 

An AUMF against ISIS would incentivize greater Congressional scrutiny and oversight of the executive branch’s strategy to defeat ISIS, establish greater accountability by Congress to the American people, and prevent a further dangerous erosion in the Congressional war powers that undercuts the ability of the American people to influence our nation’s decisions related to war and peace.  

That is why today I introduced legislation in the Senate that would authorize the use of military force against ISIS and require the administration to submit to Congress a detailed strategy to defeat the terrorist organization.

I am ready to roll up my sleeves, analyze the Trump administration’s new plan, and take tough votes.  That is what my constituents expect, the Constitution demands, and our troops deserve. 

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