On September 14, 2001, Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland and Berkeley, stood up in the House of Representatives to cast the lone vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a measure that paved the way for the war in Afghanistan.
Nearly 16 years later, a House of Representatives panel voted on Thursday for Lee’s amendment to repeal that authorization, which has been cited as justification for a vast array of American military actions in at least a dozen countries over three administrations.
In a move that surprised many on Capitol Hill, the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee approved Lee’s amendment to the annual defense appropriations bill with a voice vote. If signed into law by President Trump, it would repeal the 2001 authorization eight months after Lee’s amendment passes. A new vote in Congress would be required to continue military action against the Islamic State or other terrorist groups.
“Today was a remarkable victory, I think, for the American people,” Lee said in an interview with the Mercury News and the East Bay Times. “I’ve been working day and night for many, many years with Democrats and Republicans to get to this point. It’s been quite a journey.”
Thursday’s vote was a sign that there’s a bipartisan desire to revisit the sweeping powers given to the president to wage the war on terror. When the amendment passed, her fellow committee members broke into applause. Several of her colleagues then publicly congratulated Lee, who has proposed a form of the amendment every congressional session since 2001.
But it’s still just a first step, with a long legislative process ahead, Lee said. Procedural maneuvers could even remove the amendment from the spending bill when it goes for debate before the full House, the Associated Press reported.
The 60-word Authorization for Use of Military Force, written as bodies were still being pulled from the rubble of Ground Zero, authorized the president to use force against nations, groups or people involved in the 9/11 attacks “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” It’s been used to justify at least 37 different military actions since 2001, a Congressional Research Service report found.
“Any administration can rely on this blank check to wage endless war,” Lee told her colleagues before Thursday’s vote. “Many of us can also agree that a robust debate and vote is necessary, long overdue, and must take place.”
Only one member of Congress, Kay Granger, R-Texas, argued against Lee’s amendment at the committee hearing, saying it “would tie the hands of the U.S.”
“It cripples our ability to conduct counterterrorism operations against terrorists who pose a threat to the United States,” Granger said.
But other Republicans commended Lee. “She has raised an important point — I think she’s done it repeatedly and effectively, and I think the Congress ought to listen to what she has to say and we ought to debate this issue,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Maryland, said Lee had changed his mind on the amendment. “I was going to vote no, but … I’m going to be with you on this, and your tenacity has come through,” he said.
When Lee walked into the committee room this morning, she said, she wasn’t sure whether her amendment would pass. She credited statements in support from Republican members of Congress, including several former military veterans, as having a big effect on the debate.
The broad support in the committee for Lee’s bill doesn’t mean it will be embraced by the full House or the Senate, said Monica Hakimi, a law professor at the University of Michigan who’s studied the authorization for the use of force.
“I could very easily imagine a situation where various members of the military testify to Congress that even the possibility of a drastic change” in the authorization would be a huge disruption, Hakimi said. That could slow any drive toward repeal.
Nonetheless, Thursday’s committee vote is a major milestone for Lee, one of the strongest anti-war voices in Congress. After her lone vote in 2001, she faced condemnation from politicians of every stripe, a deluge of angry phone calls from around the country, and even enough death threats to merit around-the-clock protection from the Capitol Police.
“I’m pleased that more members of Congress are seeing what I saw then,” Lee said. “We need to rein this in and have Congress included — it’s our constitutional responsibility.”
©2017 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.