Ryan tries to control growing movement to re-open war debate
House Speaker Paul Ryan met with anti-war Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee on Wednesday as he sought to take control of growing bipartisan demands for a new debate on the 16-year-old military fight against terrorism.
Ryan and Lee had a “robust discussion” on the House floor about an amendment she pushed through the House Appropriations Committee last month that would repeal Congress' 2001 authorization for force against groups like Al Qaeda, Lee spokesman Christopher Huntley said.
That vote was a surprising victory for Lee and was seen as a rebuke of the House Republican leadership, which has stymied past rank-and-file efforts seeking a new vote on the war authorization.
After her meeting with Ryan, Lee said she believes House GOP leaders plan to strip her amendment from this year’s defense appropriations bill and instead move forward with a measure being crafted by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). The Cole provision would ask the Defense Department to spell out what it would want in a new war authorization.
“They should not remove this from the bill,” Lee said in an interview. “This was put in as part of the democratic process.”
Cole acknowledged he was working on an amendment intended to go into the appropriations bill in lieu of Lee’s amendment. He said his measure, which is being proposed as an amendment to a defense policy bill now being considered on the House floor, was designed to “nudge” Congress toward passing a new war authorization. “We should be working with the administration to craft an AUMF that they think helps them get the job done,” he explained.
Ryan has insisted that the issue must be taken up in stand-alone piece of legislation — including a full debate in the proper committee of jurisdiction — and not as an amendment rammed into a spending bill. The Wisconsin Republican called Lee's amendment a “mistake” in an interview last month with Real Clear Politics, fueling speculation that he might move to strip it from this year’s defense appropriations bill.
“There is a way to have this debate, but this, which endangers our national security, is not it,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told POLITICO on Wednesday.
But Ryan is facing new pressure to commit to some process for updating the legal basis for the war in Afghanistan and U.S. military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — a group that didn’t exist in 2001. If he doesn't, he could face a revolt not only from Democrats who want to rein in President Donald Trump but from leading members of his own party.
“People are beginning to really recognize, Democrats and Republicans, that the 2001 resolution was a blank check,” Lee said in an interview Tuesday. “We've got to reassert Congress' role and do our job. We've been missing in action.”
The California congresswoman also met Wednesday with Cole, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee who is closely aligned with GOP leadership.
Cole said Tuesday that he and Lee were trying to "find a more acceptable way to move forward.” He said he supports passing a new force authorization but thinks there are better ways to do it than attaching one to a larger spending bill.
“They ought to be convening hearings on this in the appropriate committees and having a debate,” he said.
The problem, for those demanding that Congress take action, is that no such hearings or discussion have occurred.
Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 force authorization, said House leaders have failed to take action to pass a new war resolution, despite years of bipartisan calls to do so.
Her amendment is designed to force Congress to debate the issue, repealing the 2001 resolution 240 days after enactment. Lee has been putting forward similar measures for years now — making it all the more surprising when Republicans on the appropriations panel backed her amendment last month.
Congress in 2015 tried and failed to pass a resolution setting parameters for the war against the Islamic State, with the White House and lawmakers putting forward a half-dozen proposals. Some would have covered a three-year time frame, confined operations to Iraq and Syria and limited the use of U.S. ground combat troops.
The effort collapsed in a partisan dispute, with Democrats pushing for tighter restrictions and Republicans saying they didn’t want to curb the president’s ability to fight terrorists.
The Trump administration believes that current law gives it the authority to carry out U.S. operations against the Islamic State and is not seeking a new war authorization, according to a National Security Council spokesperson who spoke on the condition of not being named.
“The United States has the legal authority to prosecute the campaign against Al Qaeda and associated forces, including against ISIS, and is not currently seeking any new or additional congressional authorization for the use of force,” the spokesperson said.
Without a new military authorization, the ongoing U.S. war on terrorism will continue to be bound by the measure approved more than 15 years ago after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
That existing resolution authorizes force against those who aided or took part in the 2001 attacks — and has generally been interpreted as targeting “Al Qaeda and associated forces.” It has no time frame or geographic limitation.
As a result, the Bush, Obama and now Trump administrations have invoked it as justification to go after suspected terrorists all over the world, from the Philippines to the Horn of Africa, and even on the “high seas,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
“We're operating off an obsolete AUMF,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), another long-time proponent of repealing the 2001 resolution. “I know these guys are trying to protect their members from casting a tough vote, but none of us have our lives on the line in Afghanistan right now. We owe it to the men and women who are serving there to at least debate whether what we're doing there makes sense.”
To read this article as it originally appeared, click here.
By: Austin Wright
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