WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday voted down an amendment that would have forced Congress to pass a new law authorizing the U.S. to wage war against ISIS and combat threats overseas.
Sixty-one senators voted to reject Sen. Rand Paul's, R-Ky., amendment to the annual defense spending bill that would have repealed the military authorization passed in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2002 authorization for the Iraq war within six months. The six month window, Paul argued, would be more than enough for Congress to craft a new military authorization.
"For the first time in 15 years, we are debating the congressional role in the declaration of war," Paul said before the vote. "We have fought the longest war in U.S. history under an original authorization to go after the people that attacked us on 9/11."
"That war is long since over, the war has long since lost its purpose, and it is long time that we have a debate in Congress about whether we should be at war or not," the senator said.
Paul's efforts received support from a group of senators rarely on the same side of an issue. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Dick Durbin of Illinois, all Democrats, spoke on the Senate floor in favor of the need for a new authorization. Thirty-six senators voted in favor of the amendment.
A bipartisan coalition also formed to reject the measure, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jack Reed, D-R.I.
"You can't replace something with nothing, and we have nothing," Reed said. "This is six months of more time, when in the last 16 years, even at the request of the president, we have not been able to come together as a Senate ... to provide the kind of specific language that we need for an authorization for use of military force."
White House legislative director Marc Short said Tuesday that a new authorization is not necessary, and that the legislation passed in 2002 gives the U.S. the legal authority to combat ISIS. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress last month that the current authorization covers the administration's efforts to combat terrorism, but signaled they would be open to Congress acting to update the nearly 16-year-old military approval.
The House Appropriations Committee in June approved an amendment to end the 2001 law. But House leadership stripped the provision from the final defense spending bill.
President Barack Obama faced similar criticisms over using the authorizations passed in 2001 and 2002, to support the war in Iraq, as the legal authority to continue U.S. anti-terror efforts. He unsuccessfully tried to get Congress to approve a new authorization to combat ISIS.
The 1973 War Powers Act requires the president to receive congressional approval to keep U.S. troops deployed in combat for more than 90 days.