Presidential War Powers Debate Sets Up Test for Divided GOP

WASHINGTON – When it comes to curtailing presidential war powers, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, seen as a prominent prospect for the 2024 Republican nomination, agrees with President Biden.

Mr Hawley supports the repeal of a decades-old law allowing the use of military force in Iraq, which has been cited as part of the legal justification for further military strikes since then and has become the original goal of a larger effort to reconsider how much leeway Congress should give presidents to wage war.

“It’s time to kill this,” Hawley said of the law passed in 2002 to allow the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush.

The senator, who introduced himself as the populist heir to former President Donald J. Trump, said it was about listening to voters in his party, who he said want to “get out” of the country wars.

His stance reflects a temporary but notable shift underway among Republicans as the United States hesitantly withdraws from what critics call the “Eternal Wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq and continues to debate how to combat the groups. terrorists in the Middle East and Africa.

After espousing hawkish and interventionist positions for decades and almost uniformly supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Republican Party is now grappling with political pressure to align itself more closely with inward-looking foreign policy ” America First ”articulated by Mr. Trump and supported by many conservative voters. It fits in with similar foreign policy changes Republicans have made in recent years to move closer to Mr. Trump’s views, including a abandonment of their support for free trade and a growing appetite for aggressive federal intervention for strengthen US competitiveness against China.

Many Republicans remain opposed to the repeal of the Iraq-related authorization. And they have shown little enthusiasm to get rid of the much broader war authorization passed by Congress after the 9/11 attacks, which has been used by successive administrations on both sides as the primary legal basis for a wide range. military actions.

Yet the evolving politics of the issue helped fuel the first major bipartisan effort in a generation to restrict a president’s authority to take military action.

The legislation taking shape in the Senate to repeal both a 1991 authorization for the Persian Gulf War and the 2002 law, an effort blessed by Mr Biden, is in part symbolic, given that the government says it does not rely on any of them. But it does reflect a growing consensus in favor of reasserting congressional influence on issues of war and peace, motivated at least in part by the evolution of the Republican political calculus.

The House, with the support of dozens of Republicans, passed two bills in June to repeal Iraqi measures, and on Wednesday, as a Senate committee approved legislation to repeal both, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and Majority Leader, has confirmed he will bring it up this year. The debate would be the first time in years for lawmakers to weigh in on an attempt to reclaim presidential war powers that could effectively be enacted into law.

It could also fuel a more in-depth discussion of the bigger question of what to do with the post-9/11 authorization, which the Republican and Democratic Presidents have repeatedly invoked over the decades – many lawmakers support far beyond. originally intended limits – as the legal backbone of US Military Force in the world. The Biden administration has said it is open to a tightening of this law, but there is little consensus in Congress on how to do so.

The issue of presidential war powers has long divided the two sides, fueling an essentially theoretical debate. But the dilemma this year is particularly acute for Republicans, for whom he has become the latest in a series of proxy battles over Mr. Trump’s grip on the party, pitting those who want to follow the lead of the party. former president to get the United States out of the Middle East conflicts against those who stick to the party’s long-held orthodoxy in favor of a tough military posture.

“If they lean heavily against” the policies of restraint, “then they run up against the teeth of” Mr. Trump’s language “that has helped educate the Republican base for four years on ending a never-ending war “said William P. Ruger, who was Mr. Trump and appointed ambassador to Afghanistan and vice president for foreign policy at Stand Together, backed by libertarian billionaire Charles Koch. “The policy has changed on this.”

This led to a difficult balancing act for Republicans, some of whom sought to find a position that would avoid alienating either wing of their party.

“I firmly believe that Congress exercises its constitutional authority over the powers of war,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, in a recent interview. But Mr Cruz said he would only be prepared to revoke the Iraqi authorization if Congress granted new powers to the president.

“If we clarify that there is sufficient authority to defend this nation against threats from Iran, then I would be ready to support it,” he said.

His proposal to do so failed Wednesday before the Senate Armed Forces Committee and Mr Cruz voted against the repeal. Three Republicans joined Democrats in supporting him.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has also been cautious on the matter. Mr. Cotton, a retired army captain who has toured Iraq and Afghanistan and is widely regarded as considering a presidential bid in 2024, has for years established himself as one of the most staunch hawks of Washington’s foreign policy.

But when Mr Biden announced in April that he would withdraw his troops from Afghanistan, Mr Cotton remained largely silent. Two local television stations said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the withdrawal, and in interviews he clearly did not criticize the decision.

“We have never tried to make Afghanistan a Western-style democracy like Switzerland,” Cotton said. “We were there to protect the United States from yet another attack like we were on September 11. “

A spokeswoman for Mr Cotton did not respond to requests for his opinion on the repeal of the 2002 authorization. Asked to comment on the effort in an interview with Fox in June, Mr Cotton dismissed the issue. question, saying it didn’t matter “as much” due to the president’s inherent war powers, but that his consideration was an example of Democrats’ “misplaced priorities”.

The change was notable for Bill Kristol, a neoconservative writer and senior critic of Mr. Trump who defended the war in Afghanistan.

Republican elected officials “seem to have become quieter, which tells me that the ‘America First’ attitude remains quite strong in the party and people don’t want to be wrong,” Kristol said in an interview.

Mr Hawley said the sentiments of Republican voters were behind the trend.

“Their point of view is that there isn’t a lot of strategic clarity – what are we doing there? ” he said. “The former president gave voters some thought on this. He expressed that position, but there was a reason for it: that’s where the party voters are.

One of the more vocal exceptions was Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and leader of the minority. During the Trump administration, he repeatedly criticized the president’s attempts to withdraw troops from the Middle East, leading the Senate in a vote condemning Mr. Trump’s plan to reduce the US military footprint in Syria and his willingness to withdraw from Afghanistan in a ruthless speech from the Senate.

More recently, he condemned efforts to repeal the 2002 authorization of military force, arguing that the practical application of the law “extends far beyond the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime” and that s ‘Getting rid of it would also hamper counterterrorism efforts in Syria.

“Throwing it aside without answering real questions about our ongoing efforts in the region is unwise,” McConnell said.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, allied with him, said in a brief interview that he was not inclined to support the repeal and sketched out a broad interpretation of presidential war authority.

“What I don’t want is for someone to come back later and say we can’t sue a militia, we can’t sue Al Qaeda,” Rubio said.

Mr Rubio said he feared a situation in which lawmakers could prevent a president from using his inherent military powers for an extended period without obtaining congressional approval.

“In many cases,” he said, “our opponents would use this to their advantage. “

Emily cochrane contributed reports.

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