WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a hearing on authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF). Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis testified.
“I’d like to thank Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis for being with us today to share the administration’s perspective on the authorizations for the use of military force.
“We are grateful to both of you for your service to our country and your willingness to come here again as we continue this critical discussion on behalf of the American people.
“Oversight and debate of the 2001 AUMF is something in which this committee has been engaged for as long as I have helped lead it, beginning as ranking member in 2013.
“At that time, many of us from both parties sought to craft a revised authority to enable the president to address the threats we face from terrorism while ensuring an appropriate role for Congress.
“When President Obama submitted an ISIS AUMF to Congress in February 2015, our committee again held a hearing and debated the issue, but there was really no effort on the part of the White House to actually enact a new authorization.
“This year, we have already held two full committee meetings on this important topic: a public hearing in June with private witnesses and a classified briefing with Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis in August. And we thank you for that. We’ve been working to schedule this public hearing since that time.
“Numbers of members both on and off this committee have raised questions about the executive’s authorities with respect to war making, the use of nuclear weapons, and from a diplomatic perspective, entering into and terminating agreements with other countries. As I have mentioned publicly, this is the beginning of a series of hearings where our committee will also examine those issues. But today, it is my hope that we can remain focused on the topic at hand: the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF for Iraq.
“The president’s de facto ability to initiate conflict has grown in an age of advanced technology, including the use of unmanned drones, and war from a distance, where large numbers of boots on the ground are not necessary to conduct a very significant military engagement.
“Examples of significant military actions by recent presidents relying solely on Article II of the Constitution include air strikes in Kosovo, regime change in Libya, and the April missile strike against the Assad regime in Syria.
“In his last War Powers Resolution letter to Congress, the president identified the following 19 countries where U.S. military personnel were deployed and equipped for combat: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Niger, Cameroon, Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Cuba, and Kosovo.
“As this month’s deadly attack in Niger proved, those forces can find themselves in combat at any moment.
“As our men and women in uniform continue to meet threats around the world, I hope that our witnesses can help us examine what the appropriate oversight role for Congress is and how we can work together to ensure that our nation’s political leadership is meeting the responsibility to decide when and where our country uses military force.
“As I stated previously, in this hearing, we will focus primarily on the two current authorizations for the use of military force.
“Unfortunately, the use of lethal force against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups will remain necessary for the foreseeable future to prevent attacks against Americans and our allies.
“The president, just like President Obama, believes he has the legal authority he needs under the 2001 AUMF to fight ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. And I agree. I agreed with the Obama administration, and I agree with this administration that they currently have that authority.
“It is clear that Congress is united in its strong support of the fight against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and other terrorist groups, and I believe Congress as a whole would agree that the president should continue to act against these threats.
“Congress has been regularly notified of troop deployments around the world, including the buildup in Niger, and has responded consistently by funding the Department of Defense and its operations against ISIS and terrorist around the world.
“At the same time, I also believe we should update the AUMF to reflect the current conflict and reassert Congress’ constitutional role, but we cannot risk undermining the legal foundation for this critical fight.
“We must also be mindful that moving an AUMF without significant, bipartisan support could send the wrong message to our allies and our adversaries that we are not united and committed to victory.
“So far, Congress has been unable to bridge the gap between those who see a new AUMF as primarily an opportunity to limit the president and those who believe constraining the commander-in-chief in wartime is unwise.
“And unfortunately, the inability to reconcile this divide without threatening the existing authorization has allowed the status quo to prevail.
“This committee has always recognized that we have a special responsibility to try to speak with one voice on foreign policy. We have a great tradition of working together in a bipartisan way to advance the national interest.
“It is my hope that we will be able to do the same on this issue.
“I thank both of our distinguished witnesses, and the members of this committee, for the seriousness with which they approach the topic before us today, and I hope that together we can have a productive discussion about a way forward.”
Click here for complete testimony and video footage of the hearing.