The Senate on Wednesday voted to repeal a pair of Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF) with bipartisan support, taking a step toward closing the door on the Iraq War 20 years after it started.
Senators voted 66-30 to officially repeal the 1991 authorization for the Gulf War and the 2002 AUMF that opened the door to the Iraq War the following March.
Senate passage means all eyes are now on the House, where a bill to repeal the two AUMFs has been introduced but has yet to advance out of committee. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and other Republicans have signaled support for the legislation, or at least interest in a debate on the issue.
The process in the Senate was a lengthy one. The chamber has spent the past week voting on a series of related and unrelated amendments.
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), who co-sponsored the bill and have emerged as major champions of the repeals in Congress, argue Iraq is now a strategic ally of the U.S. in the Middle East and that repealing the AUMFs sends a signal of support to the nation.
In remarks ahead of the final vote, Kaine said Congress “rushed” into the Iraq War, with the 2002 authorization pending for just three days before Senate approval, compared to the two weeks of debate this month on ending the war authorizations.
“We have given dramatically more time in this body to the question of whether to end wars than … was given to the momentous question of whether we should start a war,” he said. “That is a lesson we should all absorb and learn from.”
The AUMF repeal has also garnered significant support among organizations representing veterans and service members, including the American Legion, as Iraq War veterans seek closure for a war that cost the lives of more than 4,000 U.S. troops.
The Gulf War ended in 1991 after a quick deployment of U.S. troops to repel an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Iraq War ended in 2011, when U.S. forces withdrew from the nation.
While the U.S. withdrew from Iraq more than a decade ago, the 2002 AUMF has been utilized in recent years. Former President Trump cited it when he ordered the missile strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani three years ago.
Part of the push to repeal the legislation is centered on reasserting congressional war authority and providing a legislative check on the executive department as mandated by the Constitution.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) praised both Kaine and Young for pushing the legislation through the Senate in a years-long effort.
“This bill is going to become the law of the land, Congress is going to take back its constitutional responsibility over the power to declare war and to put our troops in harm’s way,” Warner said. “But this debate wouldn’t even have been still alive, still vibrant, still forcing us to do our job without the relentless, tireless work of a great public servant, a great Virginian, a great American, my friend Tim Kaine.”
Detractors of the repeal, however, argue that the AUMF should remain on the books as a tool to fight Iranian aggression. A number of the amendment votes were related to Iran, which has backed militia groups in Syria that have assaulted U.S. bases, including a drone attack last week that injured several troops and killed one American contractor.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has been absent from the Senate in recent weeks amid recovery from a concussion and a fractured rib, panned doing away with the AUMFs with Iran in mind, especially after the recent drone strike.
“Our enemies in Iran who have spent two decades targeting and killing Americans in the Middle East would be delighted to see America dial down our military presence, authorities, and activities in Iraq,” he said. “Tehran wants to push us out of Iraq and Syria. Why should Congress make that easier?”
The repeal bill now heads to the House, where McCarthy has indicated he supports overturning the pair of AUMFs. The GOP leader told reporters last week during the House Republicans’ retreat in Orlando that he’s “into it.”
“I don’t have a problem repealing that,” McCarthy said, adding that he would not vote for any bill that includes a repeal of a 2001 AUMF, passed in the wake of the deadly 9/11 attacks to combat global terrorism.
The legislation in the House and Senate does not include a repeal of the 2001 AUMF.