New war authorization from Congress unveiled following Syria strikes

Bipartisan group of senators reach compromise

By TED BARRETT, CNN
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

(CNN) - A bipartisan group of senators on the Foreign Relations Committee late Monday unveiled a major rewrite of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which would give President Donald Trump robust new abilities to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups while reserving the ability for Congress to limit the commander in chief's power to carry out the war on terror.

The compromise came after years of congressional hand-wringing over the broad authority given to the executive branch to fight terror after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and after months of negotiations by the committee's chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, committee member Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, and other senators who are anxious for Congress play a bigger decision-making role about the course of the ongoing war on terror.

"There have been a number of efforts over the years to update these authorities," Corker said about the agreement, which he hopes "will ultimately strike an appropriate balance of ensuring the administration has the flexibility necessary to win this fight while strengthening the rightful and necessary role of Congress."

"For too long, Congress has given presidents a blank check to wage war. We've let the 9/11 and Iraq War authorizations get stretched to justify wars against multiple terrorist groups in over a dozen countries, from Niger to the Philippines," Kaine said. "Our proposal finally repeals those authorizations and makes Congress do its job by weighing in on where, when and with who we are at war."

Despite the broad bipartisan belief that Congress should update the war authorization, there is widespread doubt that the compromise can pass the GOP-controlled Congress, where many leaders are reluctant to do anything that curbs the ability of the President to carry out the war as he sees fit.

"I think it's going to be very difficult to get to the finish line on this," predicted Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a senior Democrat on the committee.

Corker said the committee would consider the measure as soon as next week.

"My first goal is to be able to move something out of committee," he said when asked about the measure's prospects.

The legislation "authorizes the executive to use all necessary and appropriate force against al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and designated associated forces," according to a summary. "The legislation does not provide authority for military action against any nation state."

If adopted, it would place a check on the President's ability to conduct the war on terror by requiring a congressional review of the Authorization for Use of Military Force every four years, which would permit lawmakers to restrict or expand the mission if they chose. If Congress did not act, the existing authorization would stay in place.

Another limitation for the President would be that if he orders military action against a new associated force or in a new country, he must report it to Congress within 48 hours. That would trigger a 60-day expedited review by lawmakers, who could remove that authority to use force. If Congress doesn't act during that window, the authority would continue.

Cardin said he had trouble with those two provisions because while they would allow Congress to weigh in, it would be very difficult to get enough support to override a probable presidential veto.

A Senate source said the legislation adheres to "principles" outlined by the Trump administration during the drafting process that the authorization not sunset, that it not be geographically constrained and that it be enacted before the existing war authorizations are repealed.

Renewed debate over the authorization comes in the wake of Trump signing off on missile strikes in Syria late last week to punish President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly carrying out recent chemical attacks against civilians there. Some lawmakers in both parties had called on Trump to seek permission from Congress before launching those attacks. Many are now saying he should seek a separate authorization if he wants to keep troops in Syria for a long period.

But the proposed war authorization does not address Assad and Syria, as it's focused on terrorist groups.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford will conduct a classified briefing on the Syria situation Tuesday for all members of the Senate.

This story has been updated.

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