WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Wednesday rejected a bipartisan push for a new war authorization against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, electing to let the White House rely on a 16-year-old law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks as the legal basis to send U.S. troops into combat.
Senators voted 61-36 scuttle an amendment to the annual defense policy bill by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have allowed war authorizations, created in the wake of al-Qaida’s 9/11 strikes, to lapse after six months. Paul, a leader of the GOP’s noninterventionist wing, said Congress would use the time to debate an updated war authority for operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere before the old ones expired.
Paul criticized his colleagues ahead of the vote, urging them to embrace their war-making responsibility instead of surrendering their power to the White House. He and senators who backed his amendment said former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump have used the war authorizations from 2001 and 2002 for military operations in countries that Congress never voted to support.
“We are supposed to be a voice that debates and says, ‘Should we go to war?’ It’s part of doing our job,” Paul said. “It’s about grabbing power back and saying this is a Senate prerogative.”
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Opponents of Paul’s amendment agreed on the need for a new authorization but warned that that his plan would backfire.
Voting to rescind existing war authorities without a replacement risks leaving U.S. troops and commanders without the necessary legal authority they need to carry out military operations. Opponents said they worried Congress would not approve a new law in the six-month window.
“You can’t replace something with nothing. And we have nothing,” said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
White House legislative director Marc Short said Tuesday that the Trump administration has adequate legal authority to combat terrorist groups and did not support a new war authorization.
Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Relations Committee, said he agreed that the White House has proper authority, but said his committee intends to take up legislation for a new war authority soon. He opposed Paul’s amendment.
“I agree that we need to take action,” said Corker, R-Tenn.
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