Ryan: Effort to Repeal Military-Force Measure a 'Mistake'

Ryan: Effort to Repeal Military-Force Measure a 'Mistake'
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Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday it was a “mistake” for the House Appropriations Committee to adopt an amendment repealing the authorization for military force used as the legal underpinning for the war against ISIS

The amendment, added to the annual defense appropriations measure in the House Thursday, would repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against those responsible for the September 11 attacks and associated forces, which passed Congress three days after the attacks in 2001. It has been used to legally justify military action in the 16 years since, including by both the Obama and Trump administrations in the fight against ISIS. 

The amendment set repeal for the current authorization 240 days after the appropriations measure became law, and would essentially lift the legal justification for ongoing military action against ISIS. It passed with the support of all Republicans and Democrats on the appropriations panel. 

Ryan, in an interview with RealClearPolitics in his Capitol Hill Office Thursday afternoon, said he disagreed with the decision.

“There’s a right way to deal with this, and an appropriations bill I don’t think is the right way to deal with this,” Ryan said. “What matters to me is that we don’t undercut the military, and whatever we do, we don’t put ourselves, meaning the military, in a disadvantageous position.”

The amendment was offered by Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, the sole member of Congress to vote against the 2001 authorization and a vocal advocate for voting on a new AUMF. 

“At long last, I am pleased that my Democratic and Republican colleagues supported my effort to put an end to the overly broad blank check for war that is the 2001 AUMF,” Lee said in a statement. “It is far past time for Congress to do its job and for the Speaker to allow a debate and vote on this vital national security issue.”

Ryan, however, disagreed. He labeled the decision a mistake, and said he wasn’t sure committee members fully understood the amendment -- there was some initial confusion after it passed about whether it was binding. 

Ryan said he supported the idea of debating a new authorization for the war against ISIS, but wouldn’t commit to bringing up the debate this Congress. 

“The question is can we upgrade it and update it, or should we?” Ryan said. “I’d love to, but can we pass one that gives the military the latitude and the flexibility they need to do their jobs? I don’t know the answer to this question.” 

He added that setting a date for repeal of the current authorization for the use of force was “counterproductive for the military.” 

Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican member of the committee who supported the AUMF amendment, said there was no confusion in the room about taking the vote. Cole defended pushing the policy in the appropriations committee, rather than waiting for foreign affairs or leadership to act.  

“It’s time for leadership to wake up, and the administration to wake up, and send over a recommended AUMF, mark it up and take it to the floor,” Cole said. “I don’t know any other way to get their attention because we’ve been talking about it for years.”  

While the adoption of the repeal amendment came as a surprise to most on the Hill -- Lee herself began a tweet with “Whoa…” after it was adopted -- it is unlikely to go further. The Senate has begun debating the issue in the foreign relations committee, and chairman Bob Corker said members would likely continue their discussion in July. He said he hoped to get Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to testify on the administration’s strategy against ISIS. 

Corker said that repealing the current authorization without a replacement ready to pass Congress would leave the military “naked” in the fight against ISIS. 

“There is not authority to do it,” Corker said. “You have to deal with it simultaneously.”  

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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