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In Historic, Bipartisan Move, House Votes To Repeal 2002 Iraq War Powers Resolution

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., was the sponsor of the House bill to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The measure now heads to the Senate.
Alex Wong
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Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., was the sponsor of the House bill to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Updated June 17, 2021 at 11:34 AM ET

The U.S. House of Representatives moved Thursday to repeal a nearly two-decade-old war powers measure, marking what many lawmakers hope will be the beginning of the end of wide-ranging authorities given to the president after the 9/11 terror attacks.

The vote was 268-161. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California — who in 2001 and 2002 voted against two war power measures passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks — was the sponsor of the repeal bill. The plan would end the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, that greenlighted then-President George W. Bush's plans to invade Iraq.

"It's been such a long time coming," Lee said ahead of Thursday's vote. "It's Congress' responsibility to authorize the use of force, and that authorization cannot be blank checks that stay as authorizations for any administration to use the way they see fit."

Lee's legislation drew bipartisan support. Her repeal of the 2002 authority, which was issued on Oct. 16 of that year, had more than 130 co-sponsors.

In the Senate, Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia is sponsoring a similar bill with help from Republican Todd Young of Indiana and four other GOP senators. On Wednesday, the repeal drew the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for the first time.

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

He noted that former President Donald Trump used the 2002 authority as a partial justification for an airstrike against an Iranian target in Iraq last year. Now, with the Iraq War over for nearly a decade, the 2002 authorization, and its use as a primary justification for military action, has lost its vital purpose, Schumer said.

A Senate committee is slated to take up the plan next week.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., earlier on Thursday warned that Democrats leading the charge on the repeal are ignoring a critical step addressing how the U.S. will fight against terrorists going forward.

For example, McConnell said that debate also needed to happen before President Biden rolled out his "hasty" plans to leave Afghanistan this year.

"Reality is more complicated, more dangerous, and less politically convenient than its supporters believe," McConnell said. "The fact of the matter is the legal and practical application of the 2002 AUMF extends far beyond the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime. And tossing it aside without answering real questions about our ongoing efforts in the region is reckless."

What about the 2001 AUMF?

The effort, which has been debated for years, is what Lee and others hope will signal the initial steps to dismantle both war power measures issued after 9/11.

The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force was issued to allow the president to order the invasion of Afghanistan, and it has remained a key justification for military action against terrorist groups around the world.

But some say if the 2001 measure is repealed, it must be replaced, which is the subject of ongoing discussions now, Lee said. She and other lawmakers warned that it could be a months-long process but could be resolved by year's end.

This week, the White House issued a statement supporting Lee's bill repealing the 2002 authority, noting it would have minimal impact.

The administration also signaled openness to considering the end of other war powers in lieu of stricter alternatives.

"The President is committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats," the White House statement said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.