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

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

Make Peace, Not War

Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in 2001 in reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Since then, thousands of American troops have been killed and injured and hundreds of thousands of civilian lives lost in the Middle East. It took an ambush in Niger (and fumbled condolence phone call) to get Congress to schedule a hearing on the 60-words long authorization that has enabled presidents to launch more than 37 military campaigns in the past sixteen years.

But a Congressional hearing doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods; hawks want to expand the scope of the authorization and if they prevail, it’s round infinity in the dead end war on terror. We must all demand a repeal of this blank check for the President, and Congress has to do its job. Hiding behind 4-star generals was not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote that Congress had the power

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

With a dangerously out-of-touch and unstable Commander in Chief, we can not continue to be complicit when even those charged with oversight can’t keep track of where our military is deployed, let alone explain why!

For 16 YEARS our own Representative Barbara Lee has fearlessly pushed to revisit this dangerously overbroad war authorization. Let’s give her our full support and demand a full repeal.

Please call Senators Feinstein and Harris, and Representatives DeSaulnier and Swalwell, and say:

My name is _____, I’m a constituent from [zip code], and a member of  Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask [ ] to support a full repeal of the Authorization of Military Force passed by Congress after 9/11. The 16 year old AUMF is a blank check to wage war. Giving this President such latitude is a risk to national and global security. His disregard for our military service-members and their families (evidenced by his reaction to the ambush in Niger), civilians caught in the crossfire, and provocative statements to other foreign powers show that he is incapable of the responsibility of leading a nation at war.  Please call for repeal of 2001 AUMF.

Indivisible East Bay Meets With Sen Harris’s Staff

Meeting with Daniel Chen

Walking into the IEB meeting with Daniel Chen, Senator Kamala Harris’s District Director on August 2, 2017, we had varying opinions on most issues we wanted to discuss – but we were INDIVISIBLY united on one question: when would Senator Harris hold a Bay Area Town Hall?

Unfortunately we left the meeting without an answer. Daniel clearly heard our message – it is not acceptable that Senator Harris hasn’t held ANY town halls in Northern California – but the most he would say was that an August Town Hall was a “number one priority” for Harris.

Daniel didn’t give many firm answers to the rest of our questions, but he took notes and said he’d convey our suggestions and concerns to the Senator.

Meeting with Daniel Chen

A rundown of the main issues we covered:

  • Health Care: We asked Senator Harris to join Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in committing to make no cuts to Medicaid before agreeing to any bipartisan health care bill. Daniel acknowledged and thanked Indivisible’s extensive grassroots work fighting for our health care.
  • Budget and Defense Spending: Daniel will ask Harris to issue a statement on why she agreed to co-sponsor Senate Bill 1414. The SHIPS Act mandates expansion of military spending on battle force ships, up from 276 to support a minimum of 355. The bill is primarily a reward to military contractors.
  • Department of Homeland Security Oversight: Daniel said that the Senator is currently mainly focused on retaining Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She is aware that ICE and border control have been turning away asylum seekers without granting legally mandated hearings, and she’s seeking documentation of this in the field. Daniel will convey our suggestion that she consider visiting the border to greet asylum seekers.
  • Defense Appropriations and Constitutional Role of Congress: We expressed our concern that the executive branch’s impulsive, undisciplined, and unreliable approach to foreign policy is leading to escalated U.S. involvement in conflicts abroad without strategy or accountability. Daniel will talk to the Senator about supporting a bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, work that Rep. Barbara Lee has been doing for years and that recently gained significant support from both sides of the aisle before being removed from the House Defense Appropriations Bill at the direction of Paul Ryan.
  • LGBTQ Rights: Daniel will convey our request that Harris co-sponsor S. 1303. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act prohibits discrimination in adoption or foster care placements based on the sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status of any prospective adoptive or foster parent, or the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child.
  • Reproductive Rights: He will also convey our deep concern about the DCCC’s announcement that they’re willing to fund Democratic candidates who don’t support abortion rights, and about the failure to mention abortion rights in the Democrats’ “Better Deal” agenda. We stated that abortion rights should definitely be a litmus test for Dem candidates.
  • Obstruction of Justice: We were disappointed by Harris’s vote to confirm Christopher Wray as the new FBI Director. Daniel told us she was convinced by his responses at the hearing that Wray would remain independent, and gave us her statement regarding her vote.

It’s nearly a week since we met with Daniel, and still no word on an August recess Town Hall with Senator Harris. Please contact Senator Harris and tell her you want her to meet with her Bay Area constituents!

Update: Senator Harris asked for constituent input on priorities, please use this form to give her feedback.

Barbara Lee Speaks for the Constitution

Update: Today, August 8, we heard from the President the threat to unleash “Fire and Fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea.  This completely unhinged and destabilizing statement reminds us again of the need for Congress to re-assert its constitutionally mandated power to authorize and regulate military force.  All our members of Congress would be well advised to take up and pass immediately the bill banning presidential nuclear first strike authored by another California legislator, Ted Lieu (a senate version of the bill was introduced by Ed Markey of Massachusetts).


For the first time in almost sixteen years, there’s a chance for a real debate in the Congress about our seemingly endless war in the Middle East – thanks to East Bay hero Rep. Barbara Lee.

Regulation of the military as well as authorization and funding of war is a power granted solely to Congress in Article I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution; yet under the hastily drawn 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the President has been able to act unilaterally to commit blood and treasure without Congress’s approval. CA-13’s Rep. Lee has toiled, often alone, to force a debate on this issue on the House floor, and now Congress may finally follow her lead and do its job after too many years of silence. On June 29, a House Appropriations Committee meeting on Defense spending gave Rep. Lee the go-ahead (and a round of applause) for an amendment to the FY 2018 defense spending bill that would repeal the AUMF. All the Committee Democrats and all but one of Rep. Lee’s GOP colleagues joined in supporting this amendment, which would give Congress eight months to debate and formulate a new, more targeted Authorization for use of military force for current activities in the Middle East.

Though the amendment’s passage out of committee is a significant milestone, it by no means signals smooth sailing and final passage. There are already objections to authorization (or de-authorization language) in a spending bill, and its ultimate fate still depends on the rest of the House and Senate. But this is at last the start of a real and serious debate within and without the halls of Congress about not just the legality but the prudence of granting the executive unlimited war powers authorization. Whatever procedural objections members of Congress may have to the Lee Amendment, they will will have to weigh that objection against a Commander in Chief who lacks the attention span and skill needed to oversee an expansive war in the Middle East.

Though often dismissed as a Bay Area radical, Barbara Lee’s consistent and dogged leadership on repeal of the 2001 AUMF these last fifteen-plus years shows her to be the real steward of the Constitution. Congress has both the legal and moral authority to check the executive – if only it would exercise that authority. We owe it to Barbara Lee to advocate for not just the amendment but also for Constitutional constraint of the executive.