A key House committee voted nearly unanimously on Thursday to strip President Trump of his authority to use military force in conflicts around the world—a move that shocked even the Democrat who authored the provision.
In a voice vote, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that repeals the 2001 authorization for the use of military force that has served as the foundation for the United States’ foreign military incursions since the September 11 terror attacks.
The 80-word amendment, proposed every year by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), stunned observers when it was adopted with overwhelming support. Three Republicans spoke out in favor of the binding measure during the markup hearing for the 2018 defense appropriations bill.
The measure requires that the 2001 AUMF be scrapped within 240 days. Congress would have to approve a new authorization in the interim, but recent efforts on Capitol Hill to do so have faltered.
Trump exerted his authority under the AUMF just last week when the U.S. Navy shot down a Syrian fighter jet after it bombed U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the town of Ja’din. The president also ordered the bombing of a Syrian air base in April after learning that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed a chemical weapons attack on his own citizens.
Lee was the only member of Congress—both in the House and Senate—to vote against the initial AUMF after the attacks in 2001, saying at the time: “I’m convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.” The AUMF has been used to justify U.S. military incursions in 14 countries.
Lee herself seemed shocked that the amendment was adopted, writing on Twitter: “Whoa.” She proposes the amendment annually, but this year was different, Lee told The Daily Beast, as she was able to successfully convince many of her Republican and Democratic colleagues that it was not wise to continue giving the commander-in-chief such power.
“I knew it was a blank check that would give any president the authority to use force in perpetuity. And every president has used that,” Lee told The Daily Beast. “We’ve been building support—bipartisan support. I’ve been working with my Republican colleagues for years to get to this point.”
The provision still has a long way to go before it can pass through the House and the Senate, but Lee said she plans to continue to build support. Upon passage during the committee’s markup hearing on Thursday, members in the room applauded.
“Many members of the Senate and House weren’t even here in 2001. They don’t know what those 60 words say. They don’t know how many times it’s been used for the use of force,” Lee added.
GOP Rep. Kay Granger was the lone member to oppose the amendment, saying it would “tie the hands of the U.S. to act unilaterally or with partner nations” to fight global terrorism.
The measure’s prospects are dim, not least due to its alleged flouting of House procedural rules. The amendment ran into a roadblock almost immediately in the lower chamber when the House Foreign Affairs Committee essentially declared Lee’s amendment null.
“This provision should have been ruled out of order,” committee spokesman Cory Fritz told The Daily Beast. “House Rules state that ‘a provision changing existing law may not be reported in a general appropriation bill.’ The Foreign Affairs Committee has sole jurisdiction over Authorizations for the Use of Military Force.”
In response, Matt Dennis, the Appropriations Committee’s Democratic communications director, told The Daily Beast that the committee will “continue to push for this provision as the appropriations process continues.” Dennis said appropriations bills regularly include authorization language.
Jen Hing, a spokeswoman for the committee, defended the process behind the amendment. “Authorization amendments can be offered in Committee. You will have to talk to [the Rules Committee] about what is allowed on the floor,” Hing told The Daily Beast. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated it was too early to weigh in on the process.
Lee said she had been in discussions with the House Armed Services Committee on the issue, but not on the specific amendment that the Appropriations Committee adopted on Thursday. On the jurisdictional issue, Lee dismissed concerns over the addition of authorization language to an appropriations bill.
“We’ve been doing this every year. It’s never been raised as a technical or jurisdictional issue. So I’m confident that we’re going to move forward with this,” Lee said. An aide to the California Democrat told The Daily Beast said the approval of the amendment means it is “operative bill language.”
The move sets up a debate in the Senate, where some members have already expressed their support for nullifying the 2001 AUMF and starting over. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine—who drafted an AUMF last month with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake regarding military action against ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban—hailed the bipartisan nature of the vote.
“I’m hopeful this renewed energy will help us address the lack of proper legal authority for the Trump Administration’s ongoing military actions and allow us to show our troops, allies, and the American public that Congress is behind them in this fight,” Kaine said in a statement.
A White House spokesman did not return a request for comment.
—Lachlan Markay contributed reporting.