Barbara Lee fights for new debate over war on terror as House leadership stonewalls
Rep. Barbara Lee last month reached a major milestone in her 16-year fight to repeal a key authorization for the war on terror when a congressional committee unexpectedly approved her amendment to repeal it.
But now the leadership in the House of Representatives is stonewalling the amendment, which might not make it to the House floor for a debate, Lee said in an interview Friday.
Lee met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other senior members of Congress this week to make her case, but didn’t have much success. She said she expected the Republican leadership to remove her amendment from a defense spending bill when it goes through the House Rules Committee, which could happen as soon as next week.
“They control everything,” said Lee, who represents Oakland and Berkeley. “That’s how this place works — it’s in many ways undemocratic.”
The Authorization for Use of Military Force was written as rescue workers worked at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. The 60-word resolution gives the president the authority to use force against nations, groups or people involved in the attacks “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” It’s so broad that it’s been used as justification for military operations in more than a dozen different countries, from airstrikes in Libya to special forces raids in Syria.
When the authorization was approved on September 14, 2001, Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against it. She faced condemnation from across the political spectrum and even death threats.
In the last 16 years, however, the political tide has turned. The House Appropriations Committee approved her amendment almost unanimously last month — a surprise that suggested both Republicans and Democrats want to see a debate over the war powers that have been handed over to the president.
Lee’s amendment is attached to this year’s defense spending bill. If passed into law, it would repeal the 9/11 authorization and give Congress eight months to pass a new resolution authorizing military force — which would likely be focused on ISIS and less open-ended.
“This is a blank check that has been on the books for 16 years,” Lee said. “The Constitution requires us to exercise our responsibility in matters of war and peace, and we’ve been missing in action.”
But House leaders have objected to her amendment on technical grounds, saying it’s out of place because it sets policy in a bill that is about allocating spending. Opponents also say the eight month deadline is too short — even though Congress passed the original authorizaton just three days after 9/11.
“There is a way to have this debate, but this, which endangers our national security, is not it,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in an email.
Lee said she thought her amendment might be brought up in the Rules Committee next week. Caroline Booth, a spokeswoman for the committee’s Republican majority, said there was no schedule for the bill yet.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., added an amendment to a separate defense bill Friday that would require the administration to provide a report outlining what military officials want to see in a new authorization of force. That would be a small step toward the debate Lee wants to have.
Lee also has a standalone bill that she’s introduced on the House floor to repeal the authorization — but it hasn’t received any committee hearings.
She said she wasn’t frustrated by the obstacles and was trying to drum up support among as many members of Congress as she could.
“This is a marathon,” said Lee, 70. “The way Congress works is very slow … but I’m going to keep plugging along.”
To read this article as it originally appeared, click here.
By: Casey Tolan
Source: San Jose Mercury News
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