Sunrise, No Sunset: Stop the 2018 AUMF

For most Americans, when Trump decided to bomb Syria in mid-April, no alarm bells went off. Whether or not you agreed with the decision, the President has the prerogative to take such action — even without prior authorization from Congress. Right?

Not exactly! Time was, Congress retained sole authority to declare war on another country. But the last time Congress exercised that authority was in 1942 — following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that marked our entry into World War II. After that, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the first Gulf War were all wars, but they were never declared as such. Rather, by labeling them “Extended Military Engagements,” the administration bypassed the requirement for a Congressional declaration.

Following September 11, 2001, Congress decided that even Extended Military Engagements were not sufficient. The attacks led to Congress ceding more explicit authority to the President so he could deal with the (again, not formally declared) War on Terror. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001 gave the President the power to use military force, without seeking prior Congressional approval — but only in response to attacks by entities (primarily Al Qaeda and the Taliban) deemed directly or indirectly responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

While it seems the AUMF would greatly limit the President’s powers to wage war, it didn’t work out that way. Rather, we’ve slid down a slippery slope over the ensuing years to the point where the AUMF is now used to justify an attack on almost anyone the President chooses. Notably, the AUMF has been interpreted to extend to terrorist entities, such as ISIS, that had no direct connection to 9/11, and did not even exist until after 2003 and did not come to prominence until 2014. With our recent bombings of Syria (also in no way involved in 9/11), many in Congress have begun to question whether the AUMF’s authority has gone too far.

Enter the “Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2018” — aka the 2018 AUMF or the Corker-Kaine bill — which supposedly reasserts Congress’ role in “authorizing and conducting oversight of the use of military force.” While renewed oversight is a worthy goal, and one that Indivisible East Bay solidly supports (especially with someone as erratic and reckless as the Current Occupant of the White House), it is unclear that this new AUMF truly accomplishes this goal. In fact, some claim it does almost the opposite.

For example, the 2018 AUMF allows the President to designate new groups as military enemies, and it has no “sunset clause” – any such designation would remain in force until and unless Congress subsequently rejects it. If Congress fails to take any action (a too common outcome in today’s polarized climate), the President’s unilateral decision would stand. Congress could exert greater and more appropriate oversight if its approval was required before the President could engage in military combat. While the President should retain some ability to act quickly in a crisis, most responses can wait for this Congressional approval. 

The 2018 AUMF broadens the scope of the President’s power by untethering future U.S. military actions from any requirement that they be linked to 9/11 or any other attacks against our country. As Representative Barbara Lee argues, the new AUMF “effectively consents to endless war by omitting any sunset date or geographic constraints for our ongoing operations.”

Please contact Senators Feinstein and Harris and let them know you oppose the 2018 AUMF as currently worded. What to say:

My name is ___________, my zip code is ____________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m concerned about the Corker-Kaine AUMF bill. The 2018 AUMF has no territorial or time limits and no meaningful limit on who the president may prosecute wars against. This gives gives far too much of Congress’ decision-making power to the president. I support repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMF but any replacement needs clear limits, not fewer limits, on what the president can do. I urge the Senator to oppose the Corker-Kaine AUMF bill.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Who’s Behind That Curtain? Support AB 2188, Reveal Online Ad Funders

By the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights and Election Integrity team

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling eight years ago undermined our democracy by allowing those with unlimited money to use it to drown out the voices of the rest of us. While we would like to see Citizens United overturned, we should not wait for the Supreme Court to act – and we don’t have to. Here’s a good start: AB 2188, the Social Media DISCLOSE Act, currently pending in the California legislature, would lift the veil that lets big spenders influence politics while hiding their identities from us. (DISCLOSE is an acronym for Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.)

The Social Media DISCLOSE Act isn’t the first piece of legislation to tackle this problem. As a 2017 California Clean Money Campaign (CCMC) press release explained, AB 249, the California DISCLOSE Act, requires television, radio, and print ads about ballot measures, and independent expenditures about candidates, to clearly list their top three funders. While AB 249 also has provisions relating to electronic media ads, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) did not believe that it required social media platforms to comply. AB 2188 closes that loophole, requiring online social media platforms to disclose information regarding the funders of political advertisements and to keep a database of the political ads they run. AB 2188 specifically requires online platforms to display “Who funded this ad?” on each political ad, linking to the page of the paying committee.

The amounts of money involved in political races have always been high; they have now become stratospheric. According to Southern California Law Review, an estimated $1.4 billion was spent on online political advertising nationally in 2016 – nearly an eightfold increase from 2012! And if you think you’re seeing a lot of political ads on Facebook, you’re right – about 40% of that astonishing sum was spent there and on other social media ads. Virtually none of those ads disclosed who paid for them, so you never knew that $100,000 of those Facebook ads were bought by Russian entities. The federal Honest Ads Act, sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar and co-sponsored by Senator John McCain, was introduced in response to this threat, but – surprise! – it’s stuck in Congress.

A federal bill would be ideal, as would a Congress that would see it to conclusion. Things being less than ideal, a state like California should be able to stand up and defend itself from the influence of dark money, Super PACs and a handful of people who believe they have more right to be heard than everyone else in the country put together. In fact, AB 2188 is better than the federal bill in at least one way — it requires the web pages of the committees paying for online ads to clearly list the top three true funders – that way, individuals can’t hide behind nice-sounding committee names.

AB 2188 awaits a vote in the state Assembly Appropriations Committee. California Senate and Assembly committees represent all Californians, and the Appropriations Committee needs to hear from us in order for the Social Media DISCLOSE Act to pass!

Please call Appropriations Committee Chair Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher: (916) 319-2080, and Vice Chair Frank Bigelow: (916) 319-2005. What to say:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask Assemblymember ______ to support AB 2188, currently in the Appropriations Committee. Political ads on social media like Facebook should be required to disclose who pays for them. We should never again have to wonder who is trying to influence our vote. I urge ______ to vote yes on AB 2188.

If you live in Rob Bonta’s (AD 18, Oakland, 916-319-2018) or Bill Quirk’s (AD 20, Hayward, 916-319-2020) district, please call them too, using the same script as above. Be sure to let them know you are their constituent. As your representative and as members of the Appropriations Committee, Bonta and Quirk hold considerable power to help AB 2188.

Finally, please spread the word to anyone you know who lives in AD 18 or 20, or in any district of other members of the Appropriations Committee, especially people in San Diego, Committee Chair Fletcher’s district.

Are you interested in working with the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team? Send us an email or join the voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.

 

Graphic © California Clean Money Action Fund

 

The top 6 things revealed at our May Sen. Feinstein staff meeting

A smaller-than-usual but dedicated band of Indivisible East Bay members met with Sean Elsbernd, Senator Feinstein’s State Director, on May 7, 2018, for the latest in our periodic meetings. Sean, gracious as ever, responded to our questions covering a wide range of topics.

The refugee caravan

Despite media hoopla that warned of a recent caravan of thousands of people heading north across the border, Sean told us that the group turned out to be only 287 people, almost all from Central America and with legitimate claims to refugee status. The good news is that they have now all entered the U.S.

Rather than fuel anti-immigration flames by unnecessarily turning such incidents into a controversy, Feinstein would rather focus on addressing the “credible dangers” that lead these people to seek asylum in the first place — as well as to make sure that they’re treated fairly when they arrive at our border. Sean said that the Senator is especially concerned about ensuring that detainees get proper legal representation.

Climate change

The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act (S. 2352), a greenhouse gas emissions cap and dividend bill, currently has no sponsors in the Senate. We wondered why Feinstein was not actively supporting this. Sean’s answer: because the bill has zero chance of reaching the floor. No one wants to sponsor a bill that is a certain loser.

Homelessness

Senator Feinstein believes the ultimate answer to the problems of homelessness will require multiple approaches. Government funds alone will not be sufficient; it will also require philanthropic private money. Sean cited the Monarch School as one example of how this can work.

FISA Reauthorization bill

Senator Feinstein sponsored an amendment to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Reauthorization bill that would have “required probable cause warrants” for domestic surveillance on American citizens. The amendment did not pass, yet she voted the bill out of committee. Why? Sean told us last November that this was because “she felt that there was a better chance of the amendment passing in a floor vote.”

Yet, when the bill came up for a vote on the floor — still without the amendment — she again voted in favor of passage. In this case, her vote prevented a filibuster that would have defeated the bill. Why didn’t she vote no? Sean replied that the amendment had no chance of passage. In the end, Feinstein decided that it was better to retain at least some protections, as included in the bill, than to have the bill fail and be left with nothing at all.

Puerto Rico disaster recovery

Puerto Rico remains in crisis mode following the disastrous hurricanes last year. It is critical that FEMA continue to provide emergency housing vouchers for the thousands still displaced. Many homes are still without power; the electrical infrastructure requires major rebuilding. Yet we hear almost nothing from Congress about any of this. Why? Sean offered a simple explanation: There is almost no public pressure on this matter, so it gets a lower priority. If we want this to change, he urges us to write or call our Congresspeople and let them know.

Judicial nominations

Everyone at the table agreed that Mitch McConnell views his greatest legacy as the appointments of conservative judges to the federal courts. The Senate continues to work to accomplish this. One way for Democrats to resist is via “blue slips” — a long standing Senate tradition. We want to make sure this procedure remains in force. Currently, it can be used to block Ryan Bounds, nominee for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who lacks blue slips from both his Oregon senators. Sean confirmed that preserving blue slips is a “high priority” for Feinstein.

Two Bills to Improve Voter Participation in CA

By the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights and Election Integrity team

Our democracy is fundamental to who we are as a nation, and our right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. Two bills pending in the California legislature offer different paths to reach a common goal: facilitating and increasing voter participation in communities with low voter turnout — workers, students, and the incarcerated.

Election Day Holiday – AB 2165

AB 2165 – Election Day Holiday, was introduced by two Bay Area assembly members, Rob Bonta (Oakland) and Evan Low (San Jose). In April the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee voted to submit a letter supporting AB 2165 to the California Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization. The bill passed that committee and is now in the Appropriations Committee.

California state law lets workers take two hours off without losing pay to cast a ballot, so why make Election Day a holiday? The bill expands the current law, making it easier for students and school and state employees to vote, for schools to serve as easily accessible polling places, and for students to serve as poll workers.

This is far from being a solution in search of a problem: in 2014 California voters turned out in historically low numbers — only 42% of those registered participated in the general election and a dismal 25% participated in the primary. Nationally, turnout for the 2014 election was below 37%. According to the Pew Research Center, work and school conflicts were the most common reason that eligible voters did not vote in 2014: 35% of respondents said scheduling conflicts with work or school kept them from getting to the polls. Overall voter turnout in the US rarely breaks 60%; we rank 120th out of 169 countries for average turnout. Countries that outperform the US have different methods to elect officials, but many have one thing in common: they have Election Day off.

All Californians should have unfettered access to the polls and should be able to cast their vote in a neighborhood precinct on Election Day. We must do everything possible to make it easier for people in all communities to vote, including removing barriers that prevent those who want to vote from doing so. Assembly member Low hopes that making Election Day a legal holiday will help low-income communities participate in elections.

An Election Day holiday would expand access to voter participation and draw attention to often-overlooked midterm elections. It would commit the state to civic engagement and education by making clear that not only is voting a right and a responsibility, it’s one we take seriously enough to set aside our work obligations so we can all carry it out. It should not be “at the discretion of an employer” whether someone has time to vote, nor should anyone be concerned about their standing at their job, or of lost income because they vote.

We can help make Election Day a holiday and a celebration of our voting rights in California. AB 2165 is now awaiting fiscal analysis in the Appropriations Committee, which must act on the bill by May 24 in order for it to pass. California Senate and Assembly committees represent all Californians, and the Appropriations committee needs to hear from us in order for the bill to pass.

Please call Appropriations Committee Chair Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher: (916) 319-2080, and Vice Chair Frank Bigelow: (916) 319-2005. 

What to say:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____. I’m calling to ask Assembly member ________ to support AB 2165, currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee awaiting fiscal analysis. People cite work and school conflicts on voting day as the main reason they don’t vote. The State of California should make it explicit that voting is important by making Election Day a holiday. AB 2165 gives us this opportunity and I urge your support.

If you live in Rob Bonta’s (AD 18, Oakland, 916-319-2018) or Bill Quirk’s (AD 20, Hayward, 916-319-2020) district, please call them too, using the same script as above and let them know you are their constituent. As your representative and as members of the Appropriations Committee, Bonta and Quirk hold considerable power to help AB 2165.

Finally, please spread the word to anyone you know who lives in AD 18 or 20, or who lives in any district of the other members of the Appropriations Committee.

 

Jails: Voter Education Program – AB 3115

AB 3115 – Jails: Voter Education Program addresses a need many don’t even know exists. While working people and students grapple with finding time to get to the polls, at least they’re usually aware they are eligible to vote. Many Californians with criminal convictions don’t know that they have that right, or don’t know how to exercise it. In fact, only felons serving their sentences and those on parole are barred from voting, but detainees, including those charged with misdemeanors and those awaiting trial, often think they can’t vote. Some jail officials also believe, incorrectly, that detainees can’t vote. And logistics often make it difficult or impossible for prisoners to register and/or vote. Many formerly incarcerated people are also unclear about their rights.

No eligible voter should be kept from exercising their right to vote for lack of understanding or access. California enacted AB 2466 in 2016 to clarify who can and cannot vote, but confusion persists, particularly when it comes to prisoners. AB 3115 would require county jails to allow at least one outside organization to provide voter education to prisoners to help them understand and exercise their rights. If passed, the bill would help remove the obstacles volunteers encounter coordinating with authorities and gaining access to prisoners.

Studies show that access to voting is strongly linked to lower recidivism. Access to voting has also been shown to re-ignite a sense of participation and citizenship that many people with criminal convictions feel they’ve lost. When people feel more connected to their community, they’re more likely to become contributing, productive citizens when they re-enter their communities. This means that improving prisoner education and access to voting will improve public safety. Because we in Indivisible East Bay know that by educating disenfranchised communities we can increase voting access to tens of thousands inside California jails who have historically been denied their right to register or cast a ballot, the IEB Governance Committee submitted a letter in support of this bill to the Assembly Public Safety Committee on April 9.

Voter education is just as important as voter registration! AB 3115 also awaits fiscal analysis in the Assembly Appropriations committee. California senate and assembly committees represent all Californians, and the Appropriations committee needs to hear from us in order for the bill to pass.

Please call Appropriations Committee Chair Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher: (916) 319-2080, and Vice Chair Frank Bigelow: (916) 319-2005. What to say:

My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m calling to ask Assembly member ______ to support AB 3115, currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee awaiting fiscal analysis. AB 3115 requires county jails to allow an outside group to provide voter education and help with registration for eligible prisoners. I’m urging ______ to defend voting rights by supporting AB 3115.

If you live in Rob Bonta’s (AD 18, Oakland, 916-319-2018) or Bill Quirk’s (AD 20, Hayward, 916-319-2020) district, please call them too, using the same script as above and let them know you are their constituent. As your representative and as members of the Appropriations Committee, Bonta and Quirk hold considerable power to help AB 3115.

Finally, please spread the word to anyone you know who lives in AD 18 or 20, or who lives in any district of the other members of the Appropriations Committee.

Are you interested in working with the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team? Send us an email or join the voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.

 

IEB Meets with Senator Harris’ Staff, May 2018

Sen. Harris office visit 050518

By Myra S. Mitzman

On May 3, 2018, Indivisible East Bay met with Senator Kamala Harris’ State Director, Julie Rodriguez, and Bay Area District Director, June Williams, in downtown Oakland.  

We opened with a serious discussion surrounding ICE tactics of detaining pregnant women and separating children from their parents. Julie stressed that, in light of misinformation about the recently-arrived “caravan,” it is important to humanize the narrative—something we can do to help. Please email Senator Harris if you have a story concerning someone adversely affected by these harsh ICE policies.

The dialogue turned to national security, in particular Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel (torture, anyone?). We pointed out that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA Rendition, Detention and Interrogation, about the treatment of detainees during the so-called “War on Terror” rightly belongs to the Senate, not the CIA, and perhaps could be publicly released by any member of the Senate Intelligence Committee – which includes both Senator Harris and Senator Feinstein. Also on the national security agenda: Syria, where there is seemingly no long-term strategy, and where, according to Julie, the U.S.’s “muscular diplomacy” (i.e., ability to engage in effective negotiation) has dwindled.

On the topic of Social Security, IEB members and staff alike took umbrage at the characterization of this program as an “entitlement” when so many of us have paid into it for decades. Ironically, one of the best things we could do to shore up Social Security is to pass comprehensive immigration reform, so more young immigrants will be able to pay into the system—and earn more money, and create more jobs, growing an economy that can take care of the aging population. And let’s not forget how the Trump tax scam was always intended to dry up funding for social safety net programs.

Over the course of the next 60 minutes, we covered climate change (see S.2352, the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2018, currently in need of co-sponsors); Puerto Rico (debt restructuring/renewable energy?); Trump’s latest judicial appointments (see snippet of Senator Harris grilling Wendy Vitter); defense spending (don’t count on a Harris “No” vote on increases); election security (demand paper ballots!); and sexual harassment in Congress (Harris’s staff undergoes regular harassment training, but she appears to be in the minority in doing this).

We also got into drug policy, including Senator Schumer’s proposed national Democratic platform for marijuana decriminalization. Julie pointed out that, with Democrats holding so few Washington “power levers,” one way to effect change is through the appropriations process. If Congress doesn’t approve appropriations, the Department of Justice can’t implement its regressive drug enforcement policies. For now, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment is still good law (the DOJ isn’t supposed to spend money enforcing federal drug laws in states that have legalized medical cannabis). But as we know, true drug reform requires reforming sentencing laws, eliminating cash bail (promising, but not if the algorithm used to determine flight risk, etc. is inherently biased), and decriminalizing marijuana (including a nationwide “equity agenda” similar to Oakland’s).

Sen. Harris office visit 050518

A few more notable moments:

  • Julie saying that, for Senator Harris, the conversation always needs to be, “How do we improve people’s lives?” It’s her “litmus test” whenever evaluating an issue or proposal. Amen.
  • Quote of the day: “The Senator’s ability to be fearless is because you all are.” Awwww. See the Senator’s interview on the Stephen Colbert show, where she was perhaps a bit measured, but watch and judge for yourselves.
  • Reminding Julie that, despite Mitch McConnell’s bluster, any Senator can introduce the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which would protect Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia 

Last but not least, we’re pushing for another town hall. June Williams said she’s been pressing the Senator on this. Historically, town halls were held only by House representatives. Fun fact: Before the 2016 election, Senators Feinstein and Boxer had not held a town hall in 24 years—last year’s Feinstein April town hall in San Francisco was her first ever! But in these troubled times, people’s demands have changed, and town halls are an important way to have our voices heard. Please call our senators and reps and demand more town halls this year—then show up (and speak up!) if and when they happen.

Myra Mitzman is an Oakland real estate/business attorney and sideline women’s fiction author (under the pseudonym Sheryl Sorrentino).

Photos by Maria Bernstein

 

Reverse Robin-Hood at HUD: Rob the poor to give the rich tax cuts

Section 8. The name sounds ominous. Is it a secret location near Area 51 where UFOs go to vacation? Or is it next to South Africa’s District 9, harboring aliens desperate for a new home? The answer: neither of the above.

Section 8 is far more benign and greatly beneficial. It provides financial assistance to millions of low-income individuals, allowing them to find an affordable place to live and still have a bit of money left to buy food and other minimal essentials.

Not surprisingly, therefore, this popular and successful program is caught in the cross-hairs of the Trump administration’s shotgun. On April 25, Ben Carson, our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and office furniture bargain hunter, put forward the Making Affordable Housing Work Act. Under his plan, low-income families could wind up paying rent at a rate 300% higher than they now do (an astronomical boost from $50 to $150). The Act would also require recipients to work at least 15 hours per week at the federal minimum wage.

Think $150 per month doesn’t sound like a lot for rent, and that working 15 hours a week is a reasonable request? Carson claims his proposal “encourages work and self-sufficiency” while making the program “sustainable” within the limits of a Trump budget that cuts $1.5 billion from the Section 8 voucher program. Housing advocates, on the other hand, know that the proposal amounts to a “disaster” that could mean the difference between having sufficient food and going hungry — or even having a place to live. When you are so close to the edge, even seemingly small differences are crucial.

Over 20,000 low-income people in San Francisco currently get Section 8 assistance. Many of these people are barely surviving even with this aid. Seventy percent already work — sometimes at two jobs! Others are disabled and can’t work at all. Some are on such tight budgets that they literally cannot afford the bus fare to take the literacy or adult ed classes that could help them get better jobs.

The situation is no better here in the East Bay: Contra Costa and Alameda counties manage over 12,000 people with vouchers. Over 90% of these voucher holders are in the VLI (very low income) category. Unfortunately, qualifying for a voucher does not guarantee you will ever obtain housing. Currently, people issued vouchers in Contra Costa County have to wait an average of 47 months; in Alameda County, the wait is 67 months. And if you are not already on one of these waiting lists, you’re out of luck. The lists are closed until further notice!

Eliminating or reducing Section 8 assistance, as will happen if the new legislation is enacted, would likely push far too many recipients past their breaking point. Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, noted: Making these cuts “just months after giving massive tax breaks to wealthy people and corporations is the height of cruel hypocrisy.”

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, our local Congressional representatives and both California senators oppose the legislation. On April 26, Senators Feinstein and Harris issued a statement and sent Carson a letter expressing serious concerns and “highlight[ing] how these increases would jeopardize Californians’ ability to pursue the American dream, and how their communities are already some of the most cost-burdened in the nation.”

Please call your Members of Congress to stand by their current opposition to this poorly conceived and punitive legislation. What to say to your Senators:

My name is ________. I’m a constituent from [zip code], and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling about HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s proposal to add work requirements and raise the rent for people who receive federal housing subsidies. I’m outraged at the continued attacks on the poor from the Trump administration, and I thank you for your public statement and the letter you sent to Carson opposing the proposal. Please continue to fight it and vote against it.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

And your Representative:

My name is ________. I’m a constituent from [zip code], and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling about HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s proposal to add work requirements and raise the rent for people who receive federal housing subsidies. I’m outraged at the continued attacks on the poor from the Trump administration, and urge you to fight them and to vote against any proposal of this nature.

 

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

 

 

The 2018 AUMF: Meet the new law, worse than the old law?

For most Americans, when Trump decided to bomb Syria a few weeks ago, no alarm bells went off. After all, whether or not you agree with the decision, it’s the President’s prerogative to take such action — even without any prior authorization from Congress required. Right?

Actually, not exactly. You may be forgiven for believing the President has this power, because it has seemed to be this way since — well, forever. The truth, as so often happens, is more complicated.

Time was, Congress retained the sole authority to declare war on another country. However, the last time Congress exercised its authority was back in 1942 — following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that marked our entry into World War II. “Wait!” you may be wondering, “What about the Korean War and the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War?” Yup, those were indeed all “wars.” But they were never declared as such. Rather, by labeling them “Extended Military Engagements,” the administration bypassed the requirement for a Congressional declaration. The difference in language may seem trivial — but it made a world of difference in Washington.

Following September 11, 2001, Congress decided that even Extended Military Engagements were not sufficient. The attack on our soil led to Congress ceding more explicit authority to the President, so he could deal with the (again, not formally declared) War on Terror. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001 gave the President the power to use military force, without seeking prior Congressional approval — but only in response to attacks by entities (primarily Al Qaeda and the Taliban) deemed directly or indirectly responsible for the Septamber 11 terrorist attacks.

While it seems that the AUMF would greatly limit the President’s powers to wage war, it didn’t work out that way. Rather, we’ve slid down a slippery slope over the ensuing years to the point where the AUMF can now justify an attack on almost anyone the President chooses. Notably, the AUMF has been interpreted to extend to terrorist entities, such as ISIS, that had no direct connection to 9/11. With our recent bombings of Syria (also in no way involved in 9/11), many in Congress have begun to question whether the AUMF’s authority has gone too far.

Enter the “Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2018” — often referred to as the Corker-Kaine draft — which supposedly reasserts Congress’ role in “authorizing and conducting oversight of the use of military force.” While renewed oversight is a worthy goal, and one that Indivisible East Bay solidly supports (especially with someone as erratic and reckless as the Current Occupant of the White House), it is unclear that the new AUMF truly accomplishes this goal.

In fact, some claim it does almost the opposite.

For example, the 2018 AUMF allows the President to designate new groups as military enemies, and such a designation would remain in force until and unless Congress subsequently rejects it. If Congress fails to take any action (a too common outcome in today’s polarized climate), the President’s unilateral decision would stand. Congress could exert greater and more appropriate oversight if its approval was required before the President could engage in military combat. While the President should retain some ability to act quickly in a crisis, most responses can wait for this Congressional approval. 

The 2018 AUMF broadens the scope of the President’s power by untethering future U.S. military actions from any requirement that they be linked to 9/11 or any other attacks against our country. As Representative Barbara Lee argues, the new AUMF “effectively consents to endless war by omitting any sunset date or geographic constraints for our ongoing operations.”

Please contact Senators Feinstein and Harris and let them know that you oppose the 2018 AUMF as currently worded. What to say:

My name is ___________, my zip code is ____________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m concerned about the current draft of the Corker-Kaine AUMF bill. The draft AUMF has no territorial or time limits and no meaningful limit on who the president may prosecute wars against. This gives gives far too much of Congress’ decision-making power to the president. I support repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMF but any replacement needs clear limits, not fewer limits, on what the president can do. I want the Senator to oppose the draft Corker-Kaine AUMF bill as it’s now written.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553