WASHINGTON -- The long-awaited draft authorization to set new guidelines on the 17-year-old war on terrorism was released Monday night by senators and, to the displeasure of some Democrats, it would not impose significant restrictions on military operations, such as an expiration date.
The bipartisan Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2018 would repeal and replace the 2001 AUMF, which has been increasingly criticized for its expansive justification of all kinds of military actions against extremist groups that did not exist at the time of the 9/11 attacks. The new AUMF would also repeal the 2002 authorization that enabled the 2003 Iraq War.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, the resolution's principal sponsor, told reporters a markup is planned as early as next Monday, but that he has offered committee members the chance to have a separate closed meeting beforehand where they can go through the text line by line.
The Tennessee Republican said he is not focused on the lack of commitment from GOP leadership to schedule a floor vote if the measure is advanced out of committee.
"My first goal is to move something out of committee, so I don't really worry about much beyond having a successful vote in the committee, which has been difficult for years," Corker said.
The new AUMF is co-sponsored by Democrats Tim Kaine of Virginia, Chris Coons of Delaware and Bill Nelson of Florida, and Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Todd Young of Indiana.
Even in committee, the prospects for approval are uncertain, with at least one Republican, Rand Paul of Kentucky, criticizing any measure that does not dramatically constrain counterterrorism operations in the Middle East and elsewhere. And several Democrats are also likely to oppose the compromise measure, given its lack of a hard sunset provision.
Corker said prospects for a Senate floor vote likely hinge on securing committee passage of his resolution by a wide margin. "What matters on things like this is if they pass with a degree of support," said the chairman, who is retiring at the end of the year. "If it's a nail-biter ... they (Republican leaders) think it's not something that's really successful; there's less reason to bring it up."
The 20-page authorization would explicitly permit continued operations against al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic State and "designated associate forces." The resolution does not, however, authorize attacks against nation-states, so it could not, for instance, be used as congressional permission if the Trump administration conducts another airstrike against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.
Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez said the lack of sunsets in the resolution was a problem for him. The senior New Jersey Democrat also said he had concerns about whether the resolution essentially "changes the nature of Congress declaring war, which is what the Constitution says, versus nullifying it after something happens, which I understand was part of their language."