The Senate stopped Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul from bringing up a vote Wednesday on war authorizations for the first time since 2002.
Paul had threatened to delay passage of a major, must-pass defense bill making its way through the chamber in order to force a vote on his amendment and get Congress to reconsider how and where the US fights the war on terror.
But senators voted 61-36 instead to table Paul’s amendment — which would have repealed the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations the US has used as the legal basis for the war on terror, with a six month delay — essentially killing his motion.
Congress passed the 2001 AUMF, a 60-word war authorization, after 9/11 to allow the US to fight the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks. The 2002 AUMF authorized the war in Iraq. Since then, the 2001 authorization has been used as the legal justification for everything from the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya to the ongoing fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Though he couldn’t outright halt the Senate’s passage of the NDAA on his own, Paul threatened on Monday to “object to all procedural motions and amendments” to delay the yearly spending bill, which funds the Defense Department and typically passes with broad, bipartisan support.
But that night, he seemed to reach an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in which Paul would get four hours of debate on the issue and an eventual vote.
The Paul amendment received support from Democrats on all sides of the political spectrum, including Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth — an Iraq combat veteran — and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Just 13 Democrats voted to kill the amendment.
Three Republicans — Paul, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller — also supported the amendment.
Kaine, a longtime proponent of passing a new war authorization, announced on Tuesday that he would support Paul’s amendment “as a way to accelerate” the Senate’s consideration of a new AUMF that would be more tailored to the current US strategy in the war on terror. Kaine teamed up this year with Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake on an AUMF proposal that they are trying to move through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee has conducted two briefings on the issue thus far.
But Flake announced on Tuesday that he would not support the Paul amendment because it would repeal the current war authorizations in six months without a new one already in place. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, who is shepherding the National Defense Authorization Act through the chamber this week, said Wednesday that he wouldn’t support the amendment either for reasons similar to Flake’s, as did Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker. Both Corker and McCain said they would support updating the current AUMFs through the Foreign Relations committee, however,
The latest surge of interest in war authorization in the Senate comes after the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee shocked many in late June when it overwhelmingly supported a progressive lawmaker's amendment to repeal the 2001 AUMF. Similar to Paul’s amendment, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee’s proposal would have given Congress eight months to debate and pass a new authorization for current US wars.
However, Republican leadership quietly dropped the amendment from the defense bill before it reached the House floor. Instead, leadership replaced it with an amendment from Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole that would ask the Trump administration for an update on the use of AUMFs in the fight against ISIS and other conflicts abroad.