Merkley Introduces Alternative AUMF to Stop Endless War and Preserve Constitutional Vision of War Authorization

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today introduced the Constitutional Consideration for Use of Force Act. Merkley’s bill is an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that provides a clear alternative to the Corker-Kaine AUMF currently being debated by the committee. 

“While I tremendously appreciate the leadership of Chairman Corker and Senator Kaine in renewing this important debate over how Congress can reassert its constitutionally mandated authorities to rein in an ever-expanding war on terror, I have significant concerns about the bill that is currently before the committee,” said Merkley. “Today I am today introducing an alternative that will ensure that the United States does not remain in an endless cycle of wars or cede constitutional authorities to the President.

“At its core the bill before the committee empowers presidents to expand the scope of the United States’ war on terrorism to new groups and geography without seeking prior congressional authorization. And because that bill has no sunset, it sets the stage for endless war. 

“The framers of our Constitution did not intend for the president to have unchecked powers to wage war. They gave the power to declare war to Congress, because Congress most directly represents the American families who send their sons and daughters into harm’s way when our nation makes the solemn decision to go to war. We shouldn’t be flipping that constitutional authority on its head by giving the President the power to start and expand wars while leaving Congress with the impossible task of overriding Presidential actions.                   

“We need to restore the vision of the Constitution and make sure that Congress, not the President, has the ultimate say in the decision to send our troops into battle. That is why my AUMF ensures Congress must vote proactively before the President expands the war to new groups and territories and puts in additional checks and balances, including a 3-year sunset clause, limits on ground troops, and requiring adherence to international law.

“We face real threats around the world, but I don’t think the American people want an endless, ever-expanding war.  Sending men and women to risk their lives should be a hard choice, and Congress owes them a careful, considered decision.  We need to take war-making off autopilot and put in place a framework that makes Congress do its job, even if it’s difficult.”

Merkley’s AUMF is based off of seven key principles, which Merkley outlined last week in advance of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on a new AUMF. Those principles are:

1. Maintains Congress’s constitutional role in authorizing war.

The framers of the Constitution clearly vested the power to authorize war in the Congress. Any new AUMF must require Congress—the direct representatives of the American people—to authorize new military action rather that delegating this power to the President.

2. Requires congressional authorization for expanded military action.

Congressional authorization, conducted under expedited procedures, should be required for expanded action against any new terrorist group or country beyond Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and beyond countries specified in a new AUMF.

 3. Limits the use of U.S. ground forces.

Require explicit Congressional authorization for the introduction of U.S. ground forces into conflict.

 4. Establishes a 3-year sunset.

No AUMF should authorize endless war. Congress should set a sunset date and be forced to periodically review the underlying assumptions and facts on the ground relevant to an authorization for the use of military force.

 5. Adheres to international law.

Require that the United States adhere to international law, including the proportional use of force and distinguishing between combatants and civilians.

 6. Requires transparency.

The executive branch must be transparent by providing critical information to Congress and the American people. That information must include outlining the objectives of our war on terrorist groups and the strategies for how they plan to address the threats; a report on the civilian casualties that result from U.S. military action; other information critical to understand the scope and impact of the conflict; and the financial costs to the U.S. taxpayers.

 7. Repeals the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs is critical. They have been stretched far beyond the direct expressed limits in the legislation and have facilitated 17 years of war. The 2002 AUMF should expire immediately and the 2001 AUMF after six months – allowing the President a six-month window to come to Congress to seek additional approvals.  

The full text of the Merkley AUMF can be found here.