As Bobby Chesney noted, today House Republicans took a surprising move by adopting an amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to a Defense spending bill to sunset the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (HAC-D) was debating funding levels for the military when Rep. Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF, offered her amendment to sunset that legislation 240 days after enactment of the bill.
The move, which came as a surprise to Lee, may be part of a Republican strategy to accept controversial amendments in order to keep the process moving swiftly, with the goal of later attempting to dump those amendments in conference with the Senate. Further adding fuel to this speculation, the amendment was adopted on a voice vote, even after Republican Kay Granger (R-TX) spoke out against it.
But for members of Congress to adopt this amendment in subcommittee, only to then abandon it behind the closed doors of a conference committee, is an abdication of congressional responsibility for the nation’s foreign policy. As Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) pointed out in a recent Senate hearing on the AUMF, 300 members of the House were not yet in office when the original legislation was passed and only 23 currently-serving Senators voted on the language.
Other members of Congress have tried to use this same tactic of sunsetting the current AUMF in the future to force Congress to grapple with drafting a new one. In 2015, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) offered an amendment that narrowly failed (196-231) to sunset the authorization at the end of the following year.
But even if the Lee Amendment successfully survives to enactment, it’s not so clear Congress can reach agreement on what comes next. There’s broad agreement that the 2001 AUMF is outdated and does not apply to the use of force against ISIS or strikes against Syria, but the consensus quickly breaks down when it comes to what happens next. One proposal by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Flake would authorize strikes against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban for the next five years, and requires the administration to report to Congress if they send ground troops to a new country beyond Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen. But theirs isn’t the only one. Third Way has produced a chart of the most recent AUMF proposals:
Sadly, as Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) noted in 2014, many members would prefer the issue just go away. As he said then, "A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, 'Just bomb the place and tell me about it later.'…"