Congress Tries Again to Rein in the Executive Branch and Repeal Outdated Authorizations for Military Force

Punchbowl News reported in mid-February that a renewed effort to repeal the Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) from 1991 and 2002 had been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.). Both Senators introduced a similar bill last Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) promises that this bill will be brought up for a vote this year.  


In 1991, Congress authorized President George H.W. Bush to take military action against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait. The authorization mentioned numerous United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolutions as the basis for why the U.S. should use military force against Iraq. After the U.S. and its allies expelled Iraq from Kuwait, the UN Security Council resolutions did not expire, and Iraq leader Saddam Hussein did not fully cooperate with the ceasefire terms. Because of this, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both said that the 1991 AUMF was still in effect.

President Bush pushed for an AUMF against Iraq, claiming that the country posed a serious threat to the U.S. In 2002, Congress passed a new AUMF against Iraq that did not include any geographical or time limitations.The 2002 AUMF referenced “all relevant resolutions” related to Iraq, including the UN Security Council resolutions from 1991, which tied the 2002 AUMF to the 1991 AUMF. 

Presidents Bush and Obama relied on the 2002 AUMF to keep American troops in Iraq long after Saddam Hussein had been removed from office, and the UN Security Council ended the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq in December 2008. The Obama administration even used the 2002 AUMF as a part of the legal support for taking action in Syria and against ISIS in Iraq. President Trump further stretched the interpretation of the 2002 AUMF by citing it as a part of the legal justification for killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force.

This bill would not repeal the 2001 AUMF that was passed shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and was initially meant to go after those that planned the attacks and groups that harbored them. Successive administrations have used that AUMF as justification to go after a growing list of terrorist groups far from Afghanistan. Critics in both parties have said that the authorization has been stretched well beyond its initial intent and believe that the executive branch is usurping the role of Congress when it comes to these important national security issues. In 2021, the House Armed Services Committee voted to repeal the 2001 AUMF as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act renewal process. The vote passed along party lines, with some Republicans saying that the motion was a poison pill for the larger package. There is growing bipartisan support for repealing the 2001 AUMF and replacing it with an updated one that better addresses the current reality. 

Why You Should Care

FreedomWorks praised members of the House that voted to repeal the 2002 AUMF last Congress and has consistently called for an end to endless wars. An effort to repeal both the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs has been ongoing. Legislation ending both AUMFs has passed committees in both the House and Senate in previous Congresses. This effort had bipartisan support but died in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as some Republicans, including Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), wanted to delay consideration. Some Republicans who support repeal have argued that these AUMFs need to be replaced with an updated AUMF to assure allies in the region that the U.S. is not going to withdraw fully. 

Congress needs to reassert itself in these national security matters. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, and successive presidential administrations have used these AUMFs as legal cover for their actions in and around Iraq. Repealing the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs will prevent the president from leading the country into prolonged wars without a congressional declaration of war.