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Senate takes first step toward repealing Iraq War authorization

The push to end that authority comes as the United States marks the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War

Protesters carry flag-draped mock coffins as they prepare to take part in an anti-Iraq War march in Los Angeles in January 2007.
Protesters carry flag-draped mock coffins as they prepare to take part in an anti-Iraq War march in Los Angeles in January 2007.GUS RUELAS (REUTERS)

The Senate is taking the first steps toward repealing two measures that give open-ended approval for military action in Iraq, pushing to end that authority as the United States marks the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War.

Senators planned a procedural vote Thursday on legislation that would repeal the 2002 measure that greenlighted that March 2003 invasion of Iraq and on a 1991 measure that sanctioned the U.S.-led Gulf War to expel Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

The effort comes at a time when lawmakers of both parties are seeking to reclaim congressional powers over U.S. military strikes and deployments. They say the war authorizations are no longer necessary and subject to misuse if they are left on the books. President Joe Biden has backed the push, and the White House issued a statement Thursday in support.

“Repeal of these authorizations would have no impact on current U.S. military operations and would support this Administration’s commitment to a strong and comprehensive relationship with our Iraqi partners,” the statement said.

The vote comes almost 21 years after the contentious Senate vote to give President George W. Bush the authority he had sought to invade Iraq. That vote, which came just a month before the 2002 midterm elections, was a defining moment for members of Congress as the country debated whether a military strike was warranted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat who was in the Senate at the time and voted against the resolution, said on the floor before Thursday’s vote that “I look back on it, as I’m sure others do, as one of the most important votes that I ever cast.”

“The repeal of this authorization of use the use of military force does not mean the United States has become a pacifist nation,” Durbin said. “It means that the United States is going to be a constitutional nation and the premise of our Founding Fathers will be respected.”

It’s unclear whether leaders in the Republican-controlled House would bring the bill up for a vote. Forty-nine House Republicans supported the legislation two years ago, but current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, opposed it.

Senate Republicans are also split on the legislation. While several GOP senators have endorsed it, opponents argue that the repeal could project weakness to U.S. enemies. Some have also pointed out that President Donald Trump’s administration cited the 2002 Iraq war resolution as part of its legal justification for a 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani.

If the Senate, as expected, votes to move forward Thursday with the legislation, senators could spend up to two weeks considering it. Republicans who oppose the repeal are expected to offer amendments.

In the statement of policy, the White House said Biden would work with Congress to replace the authorizations with “a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.” It said the president want to ensure that Congress “has a clear and thorough understanding of the effect of any such action and of the threats facing U.S. forces, personnel, and interests around the world.”

Senate Democrats also could push for their own amendments. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said in the hours before the vote that he was glad that the repeal is a bipartisan effort after the Iraq conflict was the cause of “so much bitterness” in the past.

“Americans are tired of endless wars in the Middle East,” Schumer said.

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