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"At long last, I am pleased that my Democratic and Republican colleagues supported my effort to put an end to the overly broad blank check for war that is the 2001 AUMF," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). (Photo:  Alex Guerrero/flickr/cc)

After 16 Years, House Panel Takes Step to Cancel 'Blank Check for Endless War'

'The 2001 AUMF has provided three administrations with a blank check for war'

Andrea Germanos

A House committee on Thursday took a surprising—yet welcome—step towards canceling the "blank check for endless war."

That's because the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee passed a repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has been used justify ongoing military actions in regions around the world spanning the George W. Bush, Obama, and now Trump administrations.

The amendment to the 2018 Defense Appropriations Bill was put forth by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)—the sole member of Congress to vote against the AUMF passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack—and would repeal the AUMF 240 days after enactment of the appropriations bill.

On Twitter, Lee said the vote "was 16 years in the making," adding that "a floor debate and vote on endless war is long overdue."

"At long last, I am pleased that my Democratic and Republican colleagues supported my effort to put an end to the overly broad blank check for war that is the 2001 AUMF," Lee said in a statement Thursday.

"If passed into law as part of the DOD bill, it would repeal the 2001 AUMF eight months after enactment of this legislation. That would allow plenty of time for Congress to finally live up to its constitutional obligation to debate and vote on any new AUMF. It is far past time for Congress to do its job and for the Speaker to allow a debate and vote on this vital national security issue," she said.

Writing at Lawfare blog, Robert Chesney called the amendment's near-unanimous passage a "pretty remarkable development." Politico adds: "Even Republicans with military experience embraced Lee's defense spending bill amendment, which would repeal the 2001 authorization."

Committee member Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) for her part, said the passage meant her "colleagues on both sides of the aisle finally said 'enough is enough.'" Indeed, according to The Hill, "Lawmakers applauded when the amendment was added by voice vote to the defense spending bill."

Foreign Policy writes that the amendment's adoption "could signal Congress's increasing willingness to straitjacket the Trump administration's ability to wage war against terrorist organizations without prior congressional approval."

Addressing that issue, Robert Naiman, policy director at the advocacy organization Just Foreign Policy, said his group hopes "that it will set the stage for Congress to block President [Donald] Trump from using military force that Congress has never authorized against actors in Yemen and Syria that are clearly not associated forces of Al Qaeda, including the Houthi-Saleh alliance in Yemen and Syrian government and allied forces in Syria."

The development was praised by anti-war organizations.

"Over the past sixteen years, the 2001 AUMF has provided three administrations with a blank check for war. Not only does Rep. Lee's amendment stand as a strong statement against endless warfare, but we hope that it will also promote debate and compel Congress to reckon with its history of inaction on this issue," said Yasmine Taeb, lobbyist for human rights and civil liberties at Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Peace Action welcomed the development as "an opportunity to course correct after a decade and a half of failed U.S. policy in the Middle East."

"The 2001 AUMF is the reason the U.S. has been involved in military campaigns in at least seven countries. It's the reason we've allowed the war in Afghanistan to become America's longest war. It's the reason a whole generation has grown up not knowing a time without war," said Jon Rainwater, executive director of the peace organization.

"Rep. Lee has championed opposition to endless war brought on by the 2001 AUMF since day one with her sole vote to oppose it. The adoption her amendment to repeal it gives Congress a chance to reclaim its constitutional role as an arbiter of war and peace," he continued.

The amendment's passage is no sure thing, "as the defense appropriations bill will have to be eventually reconciled in the Senate, giving congressional leaders the ability to strip the AUMF language from a final spending bill," CNN notes.

Thus, Win Without War director Stephen Miles called on Congress to keep the provision as it continues to weigh the appropriations bill, saying: "The men and women elected to serve us have no more important duty than deciding whether to send the American military to war. This important legislation is the only way to finally force Congress to once again fulfill that solemn duty."


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