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Menendez Opening Statement at Hearing Examining Proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force

“I cannot in good conscience put my imprimatur on a text that codifies and blesses an endless ‘Forever War’ in which we are already engaged.”

WASHINGTON, DC –  U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing “Authorizing the Use of Military Force (AUMF): S.J. Res. 59”: 

“Thank you to both of our witnesses for being here today.  I thank Senator Corker for accommodating my and other Members’ requests for such a hearing.  And I look forward to pressing Secretary of State Pompeo on these issues next week.  

“And let me start off by saying I appreciate the work that you, Senator Kaine, Senator Flake and others have done to try to move this issue forward and advance an AUMF. As someone who has drafted these in the past, I know it is extremely hard and it is challenging. And I certainly appreciate Senator Kaine’s incredible commitment and drive to have the Congress put the support of the American people behind our troops. 

Authorizing the use of military force is the most important vote that any Member of Congress can take.  It is a vote to send America’s sons and daughter into harm’s way, and I do not take that responsibility lightly. 

Throughout my career, I have voted in favor of some authorizations—after the 9/11 attacks in 2001; against Syria in 2013; and against ISIS in 2014.  And I have voted against others, including the Iraq War authorization in 2002.  Each time I cast my vote, I carefully examined all of the facts and weighed the risks of using force.

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 strategy to pursue our diplomatic and political goals, and to understand how military action advances our interests, including realistic timeframes.  Lastly, we need to understand what authorities the Commander in Chief expects that he or she will need from Congress to end threats to the United States and protect our security.  Congress has an explicit Constitutional role here.  We cannot simply outsource these decisions to the President. 

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 17 years later.  I do not believe that it provides the authority to justify an endless war.  To be clear: I do not doubt that actions to defend our country against attack are necessary.  But new actions require new and appropriate authorizations. 

Indeed, as Chairman of this committee in 2014, I proposed and voted for an AUMF that would have provided a path for doing that.  And as I said in 2014 when Secretary of State John Kerry testified before this Committee on my proposed AUMF to combat ISIS: We are the check and the balance on executive power.  And if we abandon that role then we will have done a grave disservice to the American people. 

Unfortunately, I am concerned that Senate Joint Resolution 59 may do precisely that.  I am concerned it reverses the roles the Constitution gave to the Executive and Legislative Branches.  Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war. 

The Resolution before us would put that power substantially in the hands of the President instead, by giving the Executive wide latitude to decide, with minimal oversight, which groups are associated forces of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS.  It would give him or her wide latitude to use force in another country.  And perhaps most alarmingly, it would give the President—this one and ones who will come after him—the ability to do so indefinitely.  With no time limitations.

Now some have argued that this text at least gives the Congress some visibility and some control—more than it has now. 

I find these arguments unsatisfying.  I fear that in fact the transparency measures in this text are not much different from what we have now.  And I fear this Resolution would give the Executive Branch the keys to the kingdom to decide against whom we wage war, when, and where.  Only by a super-majority vote to disapprove could Congress bring to an end military action the President has already begun.

In short, I fear this text provides the appearance of Congressional control through procedures to disapprove, while not actually providing any meaningful check on the Executive’s ability to wage war. 

Which brings me to my broader point:  I cannot in good conscience put my imprimatur on a text that codifies and blesses an endless “Forever War” in which we are already engaged. 

Now, I do think there are ways this text could be changed to make it acceptable: To restore the proper roles of the Congress and the Executive; provide a sunset so that Congress can meaningfully evaluate whether military action is still needed; provide limits on the deployment of ground troops without additional authorization, and generally and put some guardrails on a President’s ability to wage a ‘Forever War’.

I will conclude by saying that placing restrictions or a timeframe in an AUMF with the ability to re-authorize, does not send a message of weakness to our enemies.  Just the opposite.  In forging a unified front between the President, Congress, and the American people our enemies will know of our resolve, and that there are no domestic fractures to exploit.  We can give the Commander-in-Chief the authority he needs to do our part in the multinational effort to defeat terrorist extremism and other threats and protect the American people, the American homeland, and American interests.  And we can do it without delegating our Constitutional role to the President.”