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Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on AUMF

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at the opening of a committee hearing titled “Reviewing Authorities for the Use of Military Force”:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, for holding a very important hearing. And I know the response of several of our colleagues—Senator Kaine, Senator Young, Senator Udall, Senator Merkley, just to mention some—who have been pressing this issue for some time, so I appreciate the hearing.

The Constitution of the United States gives to the Congress the sole authority to declare war, and therefore to authorize the use of military force. The vote we take to send America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way is one of our most grave responsibilities, and one which we must fully embrace.

And let’s be clear, Congress has over the past decade not adequately exercised our prerogative, allowing Presidents to abuse that authority for decades.  Regardless of party, no President wants to be constrained. Recent past presidents of both parties have placed U.S. forces in combat without authorization, or stretched a past authorization beyond all recognition.  It is unconscionable, and I also believe it is unconstitutional.

I take theses votes very seriously.

In response to a direct attack on the United States, I voted in favor of the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda. After careful review and consideration, I have voted against others, including the Iraq War authorization in 2002.  As Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2013, I worked arduously with all the members of this committee to author an AUMF for Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons and again in 2014 to carefully authorize use of force against ISIS. While this committee took our responsibilities seriously—and even the mere threat of the possibility of the authorization of the use of force I the case of Syria, had Assad give up the chemical weapons that we knew of at the time without firing a shot. These authorizations never made it to the Senate Floor.

Each time I cast my vote—and I’m sure that this is true of many of my colleagues, if not all of them—I carefully examined all of the facts and weighed the risks of using force. I ask myself if the cause is just and in the national security of the United States. If it is, I would vote to send my son and daughter into war, and also anyone else’s. But if I felt if it was not, I would not vote to send my son or daughter or anyone else’s.

Before we authorize force, we must consider three issues: First, is military action necessary to advance to protect the national security interests of the United States?  Second, we need a clear diplomatic and political strategy, and to understand how military action advances our interests, including realistic timeframes.  Lastly, we need to understand what authorities the Commander in Chief has and what specifically they need from Congress in terms of resources and authorities.

This is our decision to make—not the President’s, not the Secretary of State’s. The founding fathers did not trust the Executive to make the decision to take the United States to war; I do not see why we should override their wisdom.

As I have said many times: I am not comfortable with this Administration’s—or the last Administration’s—reliance on the 9/11 AUMF and the 2002 Iraq AUMF to pursue new enemies in different countries and under completely different circumstances than existed when those authorities were granted.  Congress passed the 2001 AUMF to counter al Qaeda in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

No member could have foreseen that we would still be acting under its authority 18 years later. 

I do not believe that it provides the authority to justify an endless war, or to engage in new wars beyond anything the Congress could have ever imagined.

To be clear: I do not doubt that actions to defend our country against attack are necessary, or that our military forces must be able to defend themselves.  But new, significant combat actions require new and appropriate authorizations before they are undertaken.

I understand that this Administration, and this State Department, believes that the 2001 9/11 AUMF could be twisted anew to provide legal cover for any U.S. combat action against Iran, based upon some fictive connection between Tehran and Al-Qaeda.  This is absurd, and I ask our witnesses today not to insult our intelligence by claiming that.

My colleagues, we have seen the consequences before of an Administration’s fictions to justify war in Vietnam and in Iraq.  The results have been quagmires that have gone on for years, at horrendous costs in the lives of U.S. soldiers and innocent civilians.

In the worst of cases, our military action has not only failed to achieve its goal, but a lack of diplomatic and strategic planning has beget more and evolving challenges and threats to the United States and our citizens.. In Iraq, arguably, we extended our tenure in a quagmire to ostensibly ‘defeat’ ISIS. While the Caliphate may be defeated, ISIS and its ideology is certainly not, with ISIS affiliates from Nigeria to Sri Lanka and even stirring again in Iraq.

There are few remaining limits to a President’s ability to wage war. That must change, before we find ourselves in another war in the Middle East, without Congress’ approval and possibly with Iran.”