White House Brushes Off Calls for Updated Authorization of Military Force

Despite bipartisan interest in new AUMF, administration says it’s not happening

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday called for a new authorization for use of military force, before the White House said it did not support such a measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Despite calls from members of both parties, President Donald Trump will not propose an updated authorization for use of military force measure to cover ongoing U.S. operations against groups such as al-Qaida, the Islamic State and others, a White House National Security Council official said Thursday.

White House officials have concluded they have ample legal authorities to continue conducting such military missions.

“The administration is not seeking a new AUMF, as the U.S. has sufficient legal authority to prosecute the campaign against the Taliban, al-Qaida, and associated forces, including against ISIS,” the NSC official said.

The news that the administration would not propose a new AUMF came less than hour after Speaker Paul D. Ryan said there should be a new one and the administration should take the lead on it.

“I think it’s in our interest to have a new one; I just want to make sure we have one that works for our war fighters,” the Wisconsin Republican said at his weekly news conference Thursday.

Pressed on what that would entail, Ryan said, “I think the administration should take the lead on what the AUMF looks like.”

In 2015, President Barack Obama sent a draft AUMF to Congress, but it went nowhere. Lawmakers in both chambers objected to various parts of that measure, and then were unable to agree to terms for their own authorization measure.

Ryan said he did not like the AUMF Obama sent to Congress during his tenure because he thought it tied the military’s hands.

“What matters in my opinion is that we have one that respects the fight in front of us,” he said, noting that ISIS has expanded its reach to areas such as Libya and the Arabian Peninsula.

The United States has also expanded its military involvement beyond Afghanistan, which was the focus when Congress last passed an AUMF in 2001.

“We’ve got a lot of fights on our hand in order to keep the American people safe,” Ryan said.

The speaker has previously answered questions about the AUMF by saying that the existing authorization provides the administration with the authority it needs, so his decision to suggest a new one Thursday rather than repeat that talking point was poor timing given the White House’s announcement that followed.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also said Thursday she thinks Congress should revisit the AUMF. 

“I would hope that we would always revisit something that’s, what now, 16 years old but in a whole different world,” she said.

Pelosi said it was former Speaker John A. Boehner who asked Obama to send the 2015 AUMF proposal, but House Republicans then ignored it.

The California Democrat said she expects the GOP-controlled Congress — if they were to craft a new AUMF — would actually give Trump more authority than he has under the existing one.

“I think we should revisit it,” she said. “But I don’t see that happening soon.”

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