Rep. Lee closer to goal of revising military-force resolution

For Rep. Barbara Lee, a loss can be just a stop on the road to victory.

A little more than a week ago, the Oakland Democrat’s amendment calling for repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which allows presidents to wage war against terrorists without direct congressional approval, was unceremoniously yanked from a defense appropriations bill by Republican leaders.

But for Lee, the real news is that her effort to have Congress revise its rules for war-making got that far in the first place.

“We’ve been working on this for years,” Lee said in an interview. “But in Congress, things take time, and this is a major step in the right direction.”

The battle to change the military-force resolution is personal for Lee, who has been in Congress since 1998. In 2001, she was the lone member of Congress to oppose the bill, which passed the House, 420-1. While that vote made her a hero to the antiwar movement, it also brought her a flood of hate mail and death threats from across the nation.

Lee explained her vote in a Sept. 23, 2001, opinion piece in The Chronicle, arguing that the measure was too broad, granting the president war-making powers that should be reserved for Congress.

“It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests and without time limits,” she wrote.

Time has proved her right, Lee said. While the 60-word joint resolution specifically authorized the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against the nations, organizations and persons involved in the 9/11 attacks, Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump have used the wording to authorize not only military action against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but also to battle the Islamic State group in Syria, launch drone attacks in Yemen, conduct air strikes in Libya and engage in dozens of other military operations around the world, according to a May 2016 report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, which provides legal analysis to Congress.

“None of this is connected to Sept. 11,” Lee said. The military-force resolution, as it currently exists, “provides a blank check that sets us up for perpetual war.”

Time and again over nearly 16 years, Lee has introduced bills, proposed amendments and worked to educate members of Congress about the need to repeal the law and replace it with a measure that can be debated and voted on outside the horror, outrage and overwhelming sadness that enveloped the nation in the days after 9/11, when terrorists hijacked airliners in attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people and left more than 6,000 injured.

The amendment Lee put before the House Appropriations Committee on June 29 would have repealed the 2001 war authorization, eight months after the appropriations bill it was attached to was signed into law. The idea, Lee said, was to give Congress time to debate and approve a replacement.

“The 9/11 bill was passed in three days,” she said. “No one can say that eight months isn’t enough time to have the discussion on what should replace it.”

But there was something different about the June amendment. This one passed.

By a voice vote, the Republican-dominated committee gave its blessing, putting the proposed repeal into the bill and sending it toward a debate on the House floor.

The vote received surprise GOP support, with some Republicans on the committee standing with Lee.

The congresswoman “has raised an important point,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “I think she’s done it repeatedly and effectively, and I think the Congress ought to listen to what she has to say, and we ought to debate this issue.”

The shocking vote could have led to a raucous debate on the whole question of Congress and war powers, something that has been a growing question for decades. Only Congress has the power under the Constitution to declare war, but lawmakers haven’t done that since June 4, 1942, when they declared war against Bulgaria, Hungary and “Rumania.”

Since then, fighting in Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans, the Mideast and elsewhere has been supported by a hodgepodge of resolutions, amendments, temporary measures and other actions. Even the 1973 War Powers Act, which was designed to limit a president’s ability to conduct warfare without the consent of Congress, has been less than effective at keeping the U.S. out of hostilities across the world.

But the House GOP leadership, eager to avoid what could have become a divisive fight both in Congress and with the president, quickly moved to keep Lee’s amendment from ever reaching the floor, arguing both that it shouldn’t be attached to a spending bill and that it was a threat to national security.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who had called Lee’s amendment a “mistake,” had it stripped it from the appropriations bill, in what the congresswoman called an underhanded and undemocratic act.

“House Republican leadership has shown that they will stop at nothing to prevent a war debate,” Lee said in a statement. “By killing my amendment — without a vote, in the dark of night — Speaker Ryan has undermined the democratic process and forsaken our constitutional responsibilities.”

But Lee was back Monday with a pair of amendments for the House Rules Committee, one adding back the language that was pulled from the defense bill and a second that would end the 2001 resolution.

Both failed, but that won’t stop Lee, who is confident that the GOP support that her amendment received marks a turning point in her efforts. Only about 20 percent of current House and Senate members were in office on Sept. 11, 2001, and the new members are likely to be more receptive to bringing war powers back to Congress, she said.

“We’ve finally got to a point where Democrats and Republicans agree to discuss this, and we tried to get a vote,” Lee said. “We’re going to keep doing it and keep doing it. ... It’s an issue of war and peace.”

To read this article as it originally appeared, click here.

By:  John Wildermuth
Source: SF Chronicle