On September 18th, 2001, in the shadows of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress gave the President – and all future Presidents– unlimited power to declare war and stay at war with anyone, any nation, group or person that was affiliated with the 9/11 attack or with future threats of terrorism. This law is the Authorization for Use of Military Force and is called AUMF for short, it is Public Law 107-40 and reads as follows – note that it is Section 2 that speaks to the new powers given to the President:
“Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens; and Whereas, such acts render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad; and Whereas, in light of the threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by these grave acts of violence; and Whereas, such acts continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States; and Whereas, the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This joint resolution may be cited as the ‘‘Authorization for Use of Military Force’’.
SEC. 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES. (a) IN GENERAL.—That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
(b) WAR POWERS RESOLUTION REQUIREMENTS .— (1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION.—Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS.— Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution. Approved September 18, 2001” (https://www.congress.gov/107/plaws/publ40/PLAW-107publ40.pdf).
Since 2001 the AUMF has been used for 37 different military actions; 18 under President Bush and 19 under President Obama. Both Bush and Obama notified Congress of the military actions including their rational for how/why the military action fell under the AUMF. These military actions were against Al Qaida, the Taliban and ISIS. Even though ISIS did not exist at the time the AUMF was legislated, legal experts under the Obama administration deemed military actions against ISIS covered by the AUMF. For a detailed catalogue of each of these military actions and the legal rationales for them read the Congressional Research Service Memorandum “Presidential References to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Publicly Available Executive Actions and Reports to Congress” from May 11, 2016 and written by Matthew Weed, available at: https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=792875, this Memorandum is also the source for this paragraph.
In every Congress since 2001 Barbara Lee (CA – D, from Oakland) has put forth a motion to revoke the AUMF. It should also be noted that Representative Lee was the lone ‘no’ vote on the AUMF law back in 2001. Rep. Lee’s argument is that Congress has the Constitutional authority to declare war and the AUMF has taken that power away from Congress and given the President unbridled power to declare war as he sees fit. In every Congress Lee’s efforts have gained little or no momentum except for this Congress – in an unforeseen move, the House Appropriations Committee, which is in Republican control, approved her amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (aka funding bill) which would prohibit funding for the AUMF; this prohibition in funding would go into effect 240 days (8 months) after the Act became law giving Congress enough time to tackle the responsibilities that would be coming back home to it. While this first step is monumental, there is some thought that the amendment will not stay in the bill once the bill is dealt with in the Senate and then there are some questions as to whether Mr. Trump would sign a bill with this amendment in it. However, it is still a first step and the first time in 16 years that Congress has taken on debate over the AUMF. (Sources: https://rules.house.gov/bill/115/hr-1301, http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/06/29/barbara-lee-aumf-house-debate/, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/06/29/us/politics/ap-us-defense-spending-war-authorization.html, http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/29/politics/house-panel-repeal-war-authorization-isis-al-qaeda/index.html).
In the words of Rep. Lee: “At long last, I am pleased that my Democratic and Republican colleagues supported my effort to put an end to the overly broad blank check for war that is the 2001 AUMF. If passed into law as part of the DOD bill, it would repeal the 2001 AUMF eight months after enactment of this legislation. That would allow plenty of time for Congress to finally live up to its constitutional obligation to debate and vote on any new AUMF. It is far past time for Congress to do its job and for the Speaker to allow a debate and vote on this vital national security issue. I am glad that this amendment passed in a bipartisan manner and I look forward to continuing to work to finally have the debate and vote that our service members and our nation deserves.”