The Senate on Wednesday rejected a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have ended war authorizations passed by Congress after 9/11 and since used to fight al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other affiliated terrorist groups overseas.
Paul's proposal was offered as an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, but senators voted 61-36 to table the legislation, a move that effectively kills it without an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
Lawmakers, including Paul and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., have been pushing for an update to the authorizations passed in 2001 and 2002, saying the Senate is ceding its constitutional war powers. Wednesday's floor action was forced after Paul threatened to hold up the annual defense policy bill.
"Who in their right mind thinks Congress is going to do their job without being forced to do their job?" Paul said.
In the end, only Paul and two other Republicans, Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Mike Lee of Utah, voted against killing the legislation. Meanwhile, 13 Democrats joined with the majority of Senate Republicans to oppose it.
Many senators had deep reservations about Paul's amendment, which would have caused the authorizations to expire within six months and compelled Congress to take new votes on ongoing military operations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said it would send a message to allies and enemies abroad that the U.S. was set to potentially withdraw forces around the world, and would force the military to immediately begin drafting withdrawal plans in case Congress could not pass a new authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, within the six-month window.
"You can't replace something with nothing, and we have nothing," Reed said. "This would be a different debate and a different vote if we had an AUMF before us that would supersede the existing authorities."
Paul countered that Congress would make that happen in time.
"Do your job, this is your constitutional role," Paul said. "Let them [war authorizations] expire and, over the next six months, let's debate whether we should be at war and where."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers have the responsibility to debate because the 2001 authorization passed almost unanimously to fight the perpetrators of 9/11 in Afghanistan no longer applies to military operations 16 years later.
"Sen. Paul's amendment gives us that opportunity by saying the '01 and '02 authorizations need to end," Cardin said. "That we don't today have clear authorization from Congress to pursue the military campaign against ISIS."
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said it's time to put such powers back in the hands of Congress.
"It is far too easy and convenient for this Congress to allow for an executive, whether it be a Republican or a Democrat executive, to define the parameters of war and to name new enemies that have not been before this body for debate," he said.