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Intel: Why Democrats failed to repeal a key military authorization

As US lawmakers vote on a compromise to fund the government this week, one thing is conspicuously absent in the spending bill: a provision Democrats added to repeal the 18-year-old military authorization that serves as the legal basis for counterterrorism operations throughout the Middle East and across the globe.
Rep. Barbara Lee speaks during the "Progressive While Black" breakout session at the Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry - RC1CDD089D40

As US lawmakers vote on a compromise to fund the government this week, one thing is conspicuously absent in the spending bill: a provision Democrats added to repeal the 18-year-old military authorization that serves as the legal basis for counterterrorism operations throughout the Middle East and across the globe. 

House Democrats had originally included a provision to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in their defense spending bill earlier this year. While the measure had a handful of Republican supporters, the White House and the majority of the party firmly oppose the repeal. The measure did not survive the defense spending compromise, which the House passed 280-138 on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Democrats — and President Donald Trump — are increasingly pushing back against what they label “endless war,” but the White House has used the 2001 AUMF to justify military force in more than 40 countries over 18 years. The only lawmaker to vote against the 2001 AUMF, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., introduced the language, which would repeal the authorization after eight months. Lee argues that this would force Congress to finally update the authorization passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, which has since expanded to cover myriad terrorist groups across the globe beyond al-Qaeda.

“More than 80% of current members of Congress weren’t in office when the 2001 AUMF became law,” Lee tweeted on Tuesday – shortly before voting against the defense spending bill. “And now the Afghanistan papers prove just how much damage a blank check for endless war can do. It’s past time to repeal the 2001 AUMF.”

What’s next: While the repeal has never become law, Lee has successfully amended spending legislation with her AUMF repeal in previous years — even when Republicans controlled the House — and will likely attempt to do so again next year. However, the odds of the repeal passing are slim with the Republicans in control of the Senate and White House.

Know more: Read Pentagon correspondent Jack Detsch’s profile of Lee’s ongoing battle to repeal the 2001 AUMF.

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