“Last week’s airstrikes in Syria show that the executive branch, regardless of party, will continue to stretch its war powers,” Kaine said. “Congress has a responsibility to not only vote to authorize new military action, but to repeal old authorizations that are no longer necessary.”
Congress has largely abdicated its constitutional authority to declare war, and presidents from both parties have used outdated authorizations to legally justify U.S. military action — including, and perhaps most notably, the 2001 authorization for the use of military force against al Qaeda and the Taliban, which was approved in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Kaine-Young bill, though, only deals with the 1991 and 2002 measures, which are entirely focused on Iraq.
For example, the outdated authorizations have been used to give legal cover to U.S. military operations throughout the region, including those targeting ISIS and other jihadist offshoots in the region.
“Congress has been operating on autopilot when it comes to our essential duties to authorize the use of military force,” Young said. “The fact that authorities for both of these wars are still law today is illustrative of the bipartisan failure of Congress to perform its constitutionally-mandated oversight role.”
Senators from across the ideological spectrum signed onto the Kaine-Young bill as co-sponsors on Wednesday, including Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Kaine and Young have introduced similar efforts before, but Biden’s airstrikes in Syria breathed new life into their push. Lawmakers have raised concerns about the potential for a tit-for-tat use of military force that could result in a full-blown war between the U.S. and Iran, whose proxies in the region have long targeted American outposts.
New Syria strikes roil Congress
Biden angered congressional Democrats when he launched airstrikes against Iran-backed military installations in Syria, with lawmakers lamenting that the White House did not consult with Congress ahead of time and did not properly notify them about the strikes.
The White House has said that Biden ordered the attacks as retaliation against militia groups backed by Iran, which launched similar strikes targeting American forces in recent weeks. Biden himself wrote in a letter to congressional leaders that he ordered the strikes in “self-defense.”
Senior Biden administration officials have begun briefing Congress this week about the Syria strikes, but they have yet to brief lawmakers directly. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told POLITICO on Tuesday that he sat in on a staff-level briefing because the Biden administration had yet to schedule sessions for senators.
Murphy said he wasn’t satisfied with the White House’s rationale for the strikes, adding: “I still need to be convinced that any president has the authorization required to take a retaliatory strike, especially outside of Iraq.”
Kaine and Young have been among the most vocal lawmakers over the years in criticizing presidents from both parties for going around Congress when ordering military operations in the Middle East.
Democrats aren’t just confronting Biden about his war-making powers; they’re also pressuring him to take additional actions to punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration published a long-secret intelligence report last week that blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for approving the operation that killed Khashoggi, but the administration declined to impose direct penalties on the crown prince.