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House votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war authorization

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) speaks during a news conference to discuss proposed legislation titled Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act outside the US Capitol, Washington, March 11, 2021.

The US House of Representatives has passed a measure to repeal a 2002 law authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq.

Introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the bill to repeal the authorization passed 268-161 with 49 Republicans joining a large majority of Democrats. Only one Democrat opposed the repeal.

The move marked rare progress on Democrats’ efforts to rein in broad authorizations granted to the presidency to fight the War on Terror following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) allowed the George W. Bush administration to circumvent the War Powers Act to conduct regime change against the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The law has remained on the books for nearly two decades after the Iraqi regime collapsed under the US invasion in 2003.

“In 2011, President Obama brought our combat troops home [from Iraq], and yet this law remains on the books, vulnerable to misuse because Congress has not acted to remove it,” Lee said today.

Until now, Democrats’ efforts to repeal the law have made little headway, as have attempts to reform a predecessor law, the 2001 AUMF, which has granted broad authorities for now four US presidents to deploy the military against Islamist terrorists virtually anywhere in the world.

The Pentagon under prior administrations has objected to AUMF reform in the past, citing concerns that it could legally jeopardize ongoing operations, including the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and the war against the Islamic State.

Lawmakers renewed their scrutiny of the authorization in recent years amid worries that the Donald Trump administration may use the law to attack Iran. The Trump administration cited the Iraq war authorization to justify the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last January.

Democrats’ campaign to reform AUMF authorities have the backing of President Joe Biden, the White House reiterated earlier this week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said yesterday he would bring a vote on the repeal to the Senate floor before the end of the year, clarifying his support for the first time.

Schumer said the repeal will “eliminate the danger of a future administration reaching back into the legal dustbin to use it as a justification for military adventurism.”

“It's been nearly 10 years since this particular authorization has been cited as a primary justification for a military operation. It no longer serves a vital purpose in our fight against violent extremists in the Middle East,” the senior lawmaker said.

Lee was the only member of Congress in 2001 to oppose the AUMF. Critics say the authorities of that law have been stretched beyond recognition with minimal pushback from lawmakers. She also voted against the Iraq war authorization in 2002.

In the Senate, Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is sponsoring a similar bill. Kaine’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and four other Republicans, would repeal both the 2002 AUMF and an even older authorization from 1991 that allowed former President George H.W. Bush to drive Saddam's forces out of Kuwait.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the Kaine-Young measure next Tuesday.