House leadership has removed language from a defense spending bill that would have repealed the authorization to use military force against terrorists that Congress passed after the 9/11 attacks, drawing anger from the Democratic lawmaker who was able to include that repeal language in the bill in late June.
"This is underhanded & undemocratic," Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., tweeted late Tuesday evening. "The people deserve a debate!"
Lee authored an amendment to the spending bill that would repeal the authorization of military force that passed in 2001 and give Congress eight months to debate and pass a successor bill. With the support of a group of Republicans who broke with party leaders, her amendment was included in the bill, which seemed to set the stage for a debate about how much authority President Trump ought to have to make war.
But the provision was jettisoned by the time it got to the Rules Committee, which is the last stop for legislation before it reaches the House floor. Legislation is often fine-tuned or even significantly adjusted as it gets to the Rules Committee, but Lee said GOP leaders went too far by silently removing her language.
"[House Speaker Paul] Ryan should be ashamed of himself for forcing Republicans to strip out my bipartisan AUMF [amendment] in the dead of night," Lee tweeted. "What is he afraid of?"
Under Lee's amendment, if Democratic doves and Republican national security hawks couldn't agree on the details of a bill giving the president authority to combat terrorist threats, the military would lose any legal justification for the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and other terrorists. Republican leaders said it couldn't be allowed to move ahead.
"The Lee amendment was an irresponsible measure that would have would have left service members in the field without an authorization to defeat al-Qaeda and ISIS and could have led to the release of the prisoners at Guantanamo," AshLee Strong, Ryan's national press secretary, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. "There is a way to have this debate but an amendment which endangers our national security is not it."
Lee's allies didn't expect her amendment to make it to the House floor, however. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, one of the first Republicans to cross party lines and vote for her proposal at the committee level, reminded her at the time of a major procedural hurdle.
"I said ‘Barbara, I don't think this is likely to get approved because we don't have the jurisdiction and it's pretty easy [to lose a procedural fight],'" Cole told the Washington Examiner.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce, R-Calif., objected to the Lee amendment, according to a senior GOP aide. The expulsion was foreshadowed Thursday by a House vote in favor of a more modest proposal offered by Cole. His alternative amendment requires the Trump administration to provide Congress with a strategy for victory in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda and ISIS, as well as an analysis of the legal basis for the current conflicts.
"It's a baby step in the process but it actually probably has a better chance of at least moving the ball in the right direction than sort of a Hail Mary AUMF," Cole said.
But he emphasized that Congress can't allow the 2001 AUMF to continue as a catch-all authorization of the fighting in Syria and elsewhere.
"I do think we're in danger of letting war-making authority slip away," he said.