WASHINGTON — The 2001 law that the Obama administration is already using to justify military operations against in Iraq and Syria is unlikely to be repealed or even drastically changed, even as Congress debates a new authorization of force against ISIS.
Congress will now begin a potentially months-long debate over a White House proposal for authorizing the military operation — which did not include an end to the 2001 AUMF.
The White House is currently relying on that 2001 legislation to justify their now months long fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The White House proposal did call for a a repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF.
In a letter to Congress, Obama said he remained committed "to refine, and ultimately repeal, the 2001 AUMF" and the ISIS AUMF could serve as a model for that refinement — but at some point later down the road.
To make it more unlikely that Congress would revisit the issue Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker was non-committal about addressing it.
"I know there are people who wish to do that but I'm sure that during the process of the hearings there will be all kinds of things that are brought up," Corker said. "We're going to have a process, I think it's going to be a good process, let's let it work it's way through and then we see what we are."
Asked specifically if he felt the 2001 authorization should be revisited Corker said that "because of my role in all of this, I plan to conduct the hearings first."
But in the absence of repeal, Democrats are concerned that the administration could and would fall back on the 2001 law, should they believe a new AUMF be too limiting.
"It leaves in place indefinitely the blank check authority granted to the Executive in the 2001 AUMF. It makes little sense to place reasonable boundaries on the Executive's war powers against ISIL while leaving them unchecked elsewhere," Rep. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement.
Likewise, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine told BuzzFeed News that he was concerned the administration could easily go back to using the 2001 AUMF if it remains on the books for too long. Kaine, who is one of the most vocal Democrats on the issue of war authorization, was open to supporting a new AUMF without the 2001 repeal as long as there was a "sense of urgency" to address it.
"I don't demand it be part of this [ISIS] AUMF but I do think it's important and the president has said on a number of occasions we have to take these steps. He really needs to engage with us on it, and it needs to get done before he leaves office," Kaine told BuzzFeed News. "He has often said he wants to do it, but he hasn't yet really pushed it so we have to start being serious about this."
But Republicans control both chambers of Congress now, and there seems to be little appetite among them for any kind of major restructuring of the 2001 AUMF.
"To eliminate it would need very careful review of the ramifications of that and I doubt Congress is willing to do unless they have confidence that a new resolution encompasses all that needs to be included," said Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and likely 2016 presidential candidate, took it a step further calling the 2001 AUMF "the cornerstone of the war on terror" and was adamantly against changing or repealing it.
"It's critical," he said. "The enemy combatants held in Guantanamo are dependent on that, our continued operations against terrorists and the threat they pose around the world are as well."
Kate Nocera is the DC Bureau Chief for BuzzFeed’s Washington, DC bureau. Nocera is a recipient of the National Press Foundation's 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting on Congress.
Contact Kate Nocera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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