U.S. Senate in bipartisan vote repeals decades-old Iraq war authorizations

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida voted no on the bill.

By: - March 29, 2023 2:55 pm

U.S. Capitol. Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON — U.S. senators revoked their approval for the Gulf and Iraq wars on Wednesday, taking a broadly bipartisan vote to repeal the Authorizations for Use of Military Force that have stayed on the books years after the two wars ended.

The 66-30 vote sends the measure to the U.S. House, where Speaker Kevin McCarthy remains lukewarm on the repeal effort, though he’s indicated a similar bill could move through the Foreign Affairs Committee and to the floor. Eighteen Republicans joined Democrats and independents in the Senate vote.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida voted no on the bill, according to a roll call vote.

President Joe Biden backs efforts to repeal the 1991 authorization for the use of military force in the Gulf War and the 2002 authorization against Iraq, and would likely sign the legislation if lawmakers reach a final bipartisan agreement.

The Senate vote to sunset the two Iraq War military authorizations doesn’t repeal a third and separate 2001 AUMF that Congress passed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That military authorization, originally used for the war in Afghanistan, has since been used by several presidents to justify counterterrorism military operations around the world.

McCarthy, a California Republican, said last week he supports repealing the Iraq War AUMF and expects a bill to do just that will move through the House Committee on Foreign Affairs before heading to the floor in that chamber.

“I was not here to vote on either of the creation of those, but you’re 20 years into this now. I think it’s very healthy that we take this up and look at this,” McCarthy said from the House Republican retreat in Florida.

McCarthy said he supports keeping the 2001 authorization for the global war on terror in place.

“I support keeping the worldwide AUMF, so there’s action that can be taken if there’s a terrorist anywhere in the world. But Iraq, we’re 20 years into it, I don’t have a problem repealing that,” McCarthy said.

That’s a change from June 2021 when McCarthy voted against a bill that would have repealed the 2002 Iraq war AUMF. The House, then controlled by Democrats, passed the measure following a 268-161 vote, but the Senate never took up the bill.

McConnell opposed

The Republican-controlled House advancing the measure could be politically tricky with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, vehemently opposed to Congress repealing the Iraq military authorizations over concerns about Iran and Middle East foreign policy.

“While the Senate’s been engaged in this abstract, theoretical debate about rolling back American power, Iran has continued its deadly attacks on us. Just last week a suspected Iranian attack killed one American and wounded six more in Syria,” McConnell said in a written statement. “Some in America may think our war against terrorism is sunsetting, but clearly the terrorists do not agree.”

Despite McConnell’s objections, Senate debate on the measure this week was broadly bipartisan.

Republican Sen. ​​Todd Young of Indiana, an original co-sponsor, said during floor debate Wednesday that Iraq is no longer the enemy it was 20 years ago, but “a strategic partner, an ally in advancing stability across the Middle East.”

“A lot has changed in the last 20 years and yet according to our laws today we are still at war with Iraq,” Young said. “This isn’t just the result of an oversight, it’s an intentional abdication of this body of its constitutional role in America’s national security.”

Allowing the military authorizations to stay in place, Young contended, would be a “strategic mistake,” in part because Iran is trying to establish a path to the Mediterranean Sea that would run through Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

“Iraq cannot follow this path,” Young said. “It cannot become a satellite of Iran. And Iran cannot be permitted unrestricted access across the region.”

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who sponsored the bill, noted during debate that 4,500 Americans died during the Iraq war and more than 31,000 troops were wounded. He also noted that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed.

Kaine said that motivations for the war — specifically that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction — proved not to be true.

Kaine argued that Congress rushed into authorizing military action in Iraq, noting the 2002 AUMF moved through the House in a week and was pending before the Senate for three days before it was approved.

“The Senate voted to go to war, a war that has had massive consequences, with a total of three days of analysis,” Kaine said, later noting he believes that many of the challenges the United States faced during the war began with that rush.

“I am very dedicated to the proposition — and I have been since I came here — that the United States and the Article 1 branch of Congress, we should never be pushed into a war and we should never be rushed into a war,” Kaine said.

GOP senators in support

Republican Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Steve Daines of Montana, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Young of Indiana voted to pass the measure along with Democrats.

Senators rejected 11 amendments over the last week, including amendments from Rubio and Scott:

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s amendment was rejected following a 32-63 vote. It would have delayed repeal until 30 days after Biden certifies that “Iran has stopped providing financial, technical, and material support to terrorist organizations and other violent groups in Iraq and Syria.”

Senators voted 33-62 to reject an amendment from Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott that would have created a 12-member Joint Select Committee on Afghanistan, with each of the congressional leaders nominating three lawmakers to the panel. The committee would have been tasked with issuing a report on the 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan following two decades of war.

The Senate passed a key procedural hurdle earlier this month when lawmakers voted 68-27 to advance the bill toward final passage, though behind-the-scenes debate about amendment debate slowed passage until Wednesday.

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

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