The Senate on Wednesday approved legislation repealing the 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq, taking a key step toward closing one of the costliest chapters in U.S. history 20 years after President George W. Bush launched the invasion.
Democrats were joined by 18 Republicans in favor of repeal, a largely symbolic move that advocates say is designed to reassert Congress’s authority to declare war in the future. The bill also repealed the 1991 Gulf War authorization for the use of military force.
The Iraq War was a disastrous conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Its rationale was based on bad intelligence, and many lawmakers now believe the Bush administration lied to Congress and to the public when it claimed then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Presidents have also used the 2002 authorization expansively to wage war worldwide. For example, President Donald Trump’s administration cited it in 2020 to justify the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.
“Passing this bill is an important step to prevent any president from abusing these AUMFs, reaffirm our partnership with the Iraqi government, and pay tribute to the servicemembers who served in Iraq and their families,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a co-sponsor of the bill.
The debate over the Iraq war authorization split the Senate Republican conference. Establishment GOP senators who voted to send the U.S. to war at the time, as well as those who are considered national security hawks, opposed its repeal on the grounds that it would further embolden Iran in the region.
“Our terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us. And when we deploy our servicemembers in harm’s way, we need to supply them with all the support and legal authorities that we can,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement on Tuesday.
Some senior Republicans continued defending the decision to go to war in Iraq.
That view is not shared by more recent GOP arrivals in Congress, however, reflecting a changed party under former President Donald Trump that is increasingly questioning U.S. involvement abroad, including in Ukraine.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a former U.S. Marine who wrote the bill with Kaine, applauded its passage and said it would help restore “the proper role of Congress in authorizing military force and affirmatively stating when conflicts are over.”
The legislation passed by the Senate on Wednesday leaves untouched the broad 2001 authorization for use of military force that every presidential administration since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has used to wage war in more than a dozen countries. An amendment offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) repealing that authorization received only nine votes.
An amendment offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would sunset future congressional authorizations for military force after two years, forcing another vote on the matter if needed, picked up more support ― 19 votes ― but it still failed to be adopted. Notably, more Republicans voted for Lee’s amendment than Democrats.
The odds of repealing the 2002 Iraq War and 1991 Gulf War authorizations in the Republican-controlled House are less clear, however. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) hasn’t taken a position, but said earlier this month that he believes the bill “has a clear opportunity come to the floor.”
House Republicans may decide to alter the legislation, which would require another Senate vote before going to President Joe Biden’s desk. If they don’t schedule a vote on the bill, it could be attached instead to the annual defense spending bill.
Young said he hoped his legislation would receive a standalone vote in the House.
“It’s important they go on record supporting the troops and indicating they want to be held responsible in these important decisions regarding matters of war and peace,” Young told HuffPost.
The White House has indicated that Biden would sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk. It “would have no impact on current U.S. military operations,” according to a statement of administration policy.