160 House Republicans vote against ending the 2002 Iraq War

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The lawmakers claim ending authorization would 'destabilize Iraq, embolden Iran, and strengthen al Qaeda and ISIS.'

The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to repeal the 2002 resolution that authorized the United States to use military force in Iraq. But 160 Republicans voted against the move, claiming it might embolden America's enemies.

The resolution, authored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and co-sponsored by nine Republicans and 123 Democrats and the nonvoting Democratic delegates from the District of Columbia and Guam, passed 268 to 161. One Democrat voted no and 49 Republicans voted yes.

Its entire text reads: "The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107–243; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) is hereby repealed."

Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 on Oct. 11 of that year after George W. Bush and his administration falsely claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and strong ties to Al Qaeda terrorists in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

The United States and a coalition of allied troops from other countries invaded Iraq beginning on March 19, 2003.

Though Bush declared victory on May 1, 2003, and the last remaining U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq in December 2011, the authorization has remained on the books and has been used to justify subsequent military actions.

Most recently, Donald Trump cited it as justification for the U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general located in Baghdad, on Jan. 3, 2020.

"Although the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime was the initial focus of the statute," the Trump White House claimed, "the United States has long relied upon the 2002 AUMF to authorize the use of force for the purpose of establishing a stable, democratic Iraq and addressing terrorist threats emanating from Iraq."

Though Lee got the Democratic-controlled House to pass a similar proposal in January 2020, it died in the Senate.

"It's far past time that we bring our forever wars that have cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars to an end," Lee said in March. "The 2002 AUMF authorizing military force against Iraq no longer serves any operational purpose as operations carried out under the 2002 AUMF officially ended in 2011."

In the House Foreign Affairs Committee report on June 8 recommending the bill, the majority of committee members wrote:

The Constitution explicitly leaves the power to declare war to Congress, but expansive interpretations of outdated authorizations have caused the legislative branch to functionally forfeit this constitutionally derived responsibility. By repealing the 2002 AUMF, Congress will take a step towards reclaiming its proper constitutional authority over the use of military force.

Many House Republicans agree with the sentiment.

"Discarding irrelevant AUMFs is the best way for Congress to reclaim constitutional powers & strengthen our nation," Michigan GOP Rep. Peter Meijer tweeted in May, after voting to advance the proposal in committee.

"No more Americans should be dying in endless wars in the Middle East. We need to repeal AUMF now, before Biden sends more American kids to die in the desert," urged Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert. "The American military can no longer continue to be the world's police force."

But others say that without first passing a replacement authorization, the repeal might send a dangerous signal to terrorists and other nations.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the Foreign Relations Committee's ranking minority member, dissented from the majority report, writing that while he understands the desire to repeal the 2002 authorization, "that must be done as part of enacting a comprehensive replacement to provide clear, updated authorities against the terrorists who still plot to kill Americans at home and abroad."

He added:

A rushed, stand-alone repeal of our 2002 Iraq force authority, which could be used against such threats, sends a message of U.S. disengagement that could destabilize Iraq, embolden Iran, and strengthen al Qaeda and ISIS. As the current migrant crisis on our southern border illustrates, messaging from our leaders matters. Bad messaging causes real world problems that can cost lives.

Members of Congress have also made efforts to replace the 2001 force authorization resolution passed after the 9/11 attacks. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told Politico in March, however, "I think we could get 60 votes to repeal 2002. It's much more difficult to rewrite 2001. And again, we really need buy-in from the administration to help us do that. … It may be that we just need to start exercising this muscle first."

Democrats have vowed to pass a new authorization, but have not yet finalized any text.

"What that replacement looks like, what are the contours of it, that's going to be the tricky and the more difficult part of it," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez told Politico in March. He said he hopes "to do something that both creates a sense that the Congress has exercised its appropriate role to limit the executive branch, but at the same time not hamstring it in a way that the national defense is truly at stake."

It is unclear whether even this repeal proposal will make it through his chamber, where it will require a bipartisan supermajority of at least 60 votes.

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) have introduced a Senate companion version. Four other Republicans and 11 other Democrats are co-sponsors.

But other Republicans in the Senate have indicated they are not ready to officially end the Iraq War quite yet.

"The terrorism threats that underlie those authorizations are still there," Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said in March. "There's clearly terrorist activity inside of Iraq."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said then that President Joe Biden is open to efforts to cancel the authorization and hopes to "ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.