The House Appropriations Committee just passed an amendment that would strip Donald Trump of his power to use military force in the war against terrorism. Politico reporter Jennifer Scholtes tweeted out a copy of the amendment, which states that the AUMF (Authorization to Use Military Force) that passed Congress during the George W. Bush presidency would expire 240 days after the bill it is attached to would pass.
One might think that the Committee, which has 51 members, only 22 of whom are Democrats, might have voted down the Amendment to support a Republican president who made significant promises about keeping America safe on the campaign trail. However, the Amendment, offered by Barbara Lee (D-CA) passed, to a roomful of audible “wows” throughout the chamber.
The original authorization, passed just a week after 9/11, gave broad authority to the president to initiate attacks against terrorist actors. It was limited, by its terms, to use of force against those “nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determined planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks, but has been stretched far beyond those limited purposes by the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations. More recently, it has been reported that the White House and Pentagon have, under Trump, deprioritized the fight against ISIS, while simultaneously scaling up attacks in Syria (which bears no relationship to the 9/11 actors), in what appears to be a growing proxy war against Iran. This increased use of military strikes has resulted in a spiraling number of civilian deaths due to the US attacks, as well as a marked increase in tensions between Russia and the US over the Syrian engagement – where Russia and Iran both prop up the Assad regime. Coupled with increased belligerent rhetoric toward Qatar, where the US maintains a base and ongoing military presence, and saber-rattling aimed at North Korea, the Trump administration, despite its anti-interventionist campaign stance, seems predisposed toward increased military engagement and perhaps new war fronts in both the Middle East and the China Sea, which has many concerned.
The Amendment passed today would significantly change the powers of the president to use the military in many circumstances. If passed into law, Trump would lose broad authority to use military forces to attack terrorists around the world, and would be largely limited to responding to imminent threats. Legally, it would require Trump to obtain Congressional approval for future endeavors related to defeating terrorism overseas, which was the default requirement of the Constitution before the passing of the AUMF. But more than this, he’d also have to justify current operation that have relied upon the AUMF, including the presence of troops in Afghanistan – which Trump has also been ramping up.
Trump is under increasing fire due to the Russia probe. It would hardly be unprecedented if he were to create a diversion in the form of a military intervention – a la “Wag The Dog” – to take some of the heat off. At least among the Appropriations Committee, and perhaps among Congress in a larger sense, there seems to be a growing sense that Trump’s authority must be reigned in to the limits envisioned in the Constitution. A man inclined toward abuse of power should not be given a blank check to do so, and it seems that a genuinely bipartisan majority among the Appropriations Committee has recognized that fact.