Senate rejects bid to repeal war authorizations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate rejected an amendment on Wednesday that would have forced the repeal of war resolutions used as the legal basis for U.S. military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and against extremists in Syria and other countries.

U.S army soldiers stand next to helicopters at the Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

The Senate voted 61 to 36 to kill the measure, which six months after it became law would have put an end to authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in 2001 and 2002.

The legislation was offered by Republican Senator Rand Paul as an amendment to a must-pass annual defense policy bill, which lawmakers are using as a vehicle to gain a greater say in national security policy.

Paul’s measure was aimed at asserting the constitutional right of Congress to approve military action, rather than the president. Some of the other amendments address issues such as sanctions on North Korea and President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military.

Many members of Congress are concerned the 2001 AUMF, passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to authorize the fight against al Qaeda and affiliates, has been used too broadly as the legal basis for a wide range of military action in too many countries.

The majority of support for the amendment came from Democrats, who joined Paul in arguing that it is long past time for Congress to debate a new authorization for the use of force.

“We should oppose unauthorized, undeclared, unconstitutional war. At this particular time, there are no limits on war,” Paul said.

Republicans control majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Only two other Republicans backed the amendment.

Opponents said it would endanger U.S. forces already deployed in conflicts overseas by generating uncertainty about their mission.

“Repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs without simultaneously passing a new authorization would be premature, it would be irresponsible,” said Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

However, McCain and several other senators who spoke against the amendment said they would back efforts to pass a new authorization through so-called “regular order,” including hearings and debate.

A growing number of lawmakers argue that using the 2001 authorization is especially questionable for the campaign against Islamic State, which did not exist when it was passed, and fights against al Qaeda in Syria and elsewhere.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrew Hay and Cynthia Osterman