Leaders from across the political spectrum have too often avoided that responsibility — and the full debate and engagement it brings. Congress must act now, before our inaction irrevocably undermines our constitutional separation of powers and endangers lives.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution places the power to declare war in Congress. As representatives of the people, we have a responsibility to engage with them on the purposes, goals and risks of war. The Founders rested this authority with Congress to guarantee that the decision to send Americans into harm’s way would be made by the individuals most accountable to the people.
We have been at war in the Middle East for nearly two decades, under authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs) that our predecessors in Congress passed almost a generation ago. Men and women of our armed forces continue to risk their lives as presidents of both parties stretch these authorizations to justify often tenuously related military engagements. Rather than debating and voting on present conflicts, Congress habitually acquiesces to the executive branch’s actions. This must change; the Constitution demands it, and the people we represent deserve it.
Last week, the House of Representatives voted on a concurrent resolution regarding the use of force against Iran or its agents. For some of us, this vote was a positive step toward reasserting Congress’s constitutional responsibilities. For others, it was an inadequate and inapt substitute for real action. Regardless of our respective positions on that vote, we firmly agree that Congress must reclaim its Article I responsibility regarding the use of force.
To start, it is time to have a serious debate and vote on repeal of the 2002 AUMF, which authorized the use of force against Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. This authorization has fully outlived its purpose, given the death of Hussein, regime change and the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011, regardless of how one views the merits of that withdrawal.
Just last year, the full House supported, on a nonpartisan basis, repeal of the 2002 AUMF as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, but this provision was later stripped from the final text as the House and Senate conferred. The 2002 authorization — as well as a lingering 1991 authorization — should be removed from the books, lest either be used to justify further military engagement beyond what Congress intended.
We also must foster an informed debate on a strategic alternative to the 2001 authorization. It granted the president authority to use force against those responsible for the attacks on 9/11, or those who harbored such organizations or people, yet it has been used to justify an array of military engagements against targets that, although perhaps worthy, were in some cases nonexistent or unimagined 19 years ago. We are committed to developing and debating a new approach that provides the executive branch with the latitude necessary to fight the ongoing transnational terrorist threat, while also ensuring that Congress takes responsibility, as the Constitution requires, for the decision to send men and women off to war.
Our debates and votes must affirm that the decision to proceed with war-making resides in Congress. The declarations or authorizations we pass must have a clear scope and requirement of periodic congressional reconsideration to ensure the proper defense of our nation and prevent ill-defined forever wars.
We expect that any effort to reconsider the 2001 authorization will be difficult, contentious and emotional, but it must not be partisan. In the face of geopolitical challenges and transnational threats, it is more important than ever that Congress affirm its willingness to do its job, debate the hardest of topics and vote — expressing the will of the people — on the wars that may take the lives of those we represent.
At a time of divisive, angry partisanship, the call to do right by our service members, their families and the Constitution is one that can and should unite us. We are a group of representatives who, despite our disagreements, stand together to affirm the role and duty of Congress. In the halls of Congress and at gatherings around the country, let us lay down our partisan swords and commit to do better by the men and women in uniform who take up arms on behalf of our nation and the Constitution we swore to support and defend.
Reps. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Chip Roy (R-Tex.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) are members of the House of Representatives.