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Moving toward updating military force authorization from the President

The current legal justifications date back to Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002.

WASHINGTON — There was a bipartisan backlash after President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes in Syria last week.

Not because the President wasn't within his rights. He was.

“The United States took this action pursuant to the United States’ inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter,” Biden wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President pro tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy. 

Additionally, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby pointed to Article II of the Constitution, which grants the commander-in-chief “not only the authority but the obligation to protect American forces.” 

But, the entire episode did raise questions of the role of Congress, and the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force.

"I'm unhappy I had to hear about it on the news, and, I'm on the key committees," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia). "Eighty percent of us weren't even in Congress when it passed, and it's been used by presidents to do all kinds of things that never would've been contemplated."

Two days after the strikes, the White House  announced that Biden is committed to working with Congress to "ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars."

Kaine has long argued, through three administrations, that Congress does have an urgent role when it comes to war-making, and there should be a debate and there should be a vote.

"I've been consistent, whether the President has been a Republican or a Democrat," he said. "President Obama is a friend. But I felt so strongly about this that I'll speak up against a friend if we're not doing it right."

Kaine continued: "This is why you ought to have consultation and agreement. Because, if you don't, unilateral action -- even seemingly narrow -- can lead to an escalation and get you in a war you shouldn't be in."

Kaine and Sen. Todd Young (R-Indiana) have reintroduced a bill to repeal the old authorizations. 

After that, Kaine says, a new authorization would have to be crafted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committees. And then, that document would have to be incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act.

The last time this issue came up last year, then-President Donald Trump opposed updating the authorization, saying, "Democrats want to make it harder for presidents to defend America."

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