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Experts Available: Two Competing Authorization of Military Force Proposals in Senate

Two proposals on Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), developed respectively by Sens. Bob Corker and Tim Kaine, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, take vastly different approaches.

May 16, 2018

Today, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on proposed legislation for Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), developed by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.). In advance of the hearing, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) released a statement of principles he will use to develop his own AUMF — setting up a showdown between two very different bills and approaches.
“The contrast between these two approaches could not be more stark,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “The Corker-Kaine bill would abdicate to the president Congress’s responsibility to declare war against any given enemy. With no sunset and no meaningful limitation on who and where we can fight, it is a recipe for endless war.
“Merkley’s bill is not yet available, and the details will matter. But the principles he has put forward are a vast improvement over the Corker-Kaine approach. It appears that the Merkley bill will honor the Constitution’s separation of powers by giving Congress, not the president, the role of deciding whether to go to war against particular groups. By requiring the president to seek new authorizations to fight against new groups in new places, and by including a sunset, Senator Merkley’s approach would prevent an endless global war against enemies of the president’s choosing.”
The Corker-Kaine bill would repeal the 2001 AUMF (authorizing military force against those who planned or abetted the 9/11 attacks) and the 2002 AUMF (authorizing military force against Iraq). It would replace them with an authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and any “associated forces.” The bill specifies several such forces, but allows the president to add new “associated forces,” in the future without congressional approval. The bill also specifies several countries in which force may be used, but similarly allows the president to expand the conflict to new countries. It contains no sunset.
The Merkley principles, by contrast, suggest that his bill would limit the conflict to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS, and to specified countries. The president would have to seek a new authorization from Congress to expand the conflict to additional groups and locations. The president also would have to seek new authorization before committing ground forces in a combat role. Merkley’s authorization would include a 3-year sunset.
Read Goitein’s analysis of the Corker-Kaine bill at DefenseOne.
Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Liberty & National Security.
For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292–8381 or