House Speaker Paul Ryan had an opportunity not merely to reassert the authority of the chamber he is supposed to lead but also to steer the United States away from the dangerous course of endless war and steady subservience to an ever-more-powerful military-industrial complex. Ryan squandered that opportunity.
In so doing, the Janesville Republican strengthened the hand of the man the speaker has disregarded the system of checks and balances in order to serve: Donald Trump.
Trump’s recklessness, ill-conceived alliances, and deference to generals and defense contractors have caused both Democrats and Republicans to fret about handing him unlimited authority to order military strikes and interventions. To that end, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee secured bipartisan support on the House Appropriations Committee for her amendment to revoke the 2001 authorization for use of military force that three successive administrations have employed as a justification for military adventures abroad. Under the amendment, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to attach to the defense spending bill, the 16-year-old AUMF would cease to be operative after eight months and Congress would have to debate whether to approve a new authorization.
When Lee was the only member of Congress to oppose the 2001 authorization of the use of force by the Bush-Cheney administration, the Democrat warned that it was so ill-defined that it could be misinterpreted as an excuse for military attacks and interventions that had little or nothing to do with the goals of a measure approved in response to the 9/11 attacks. Her concerns were well founded; according to The Hill, “That war authorization, passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as a 2002 authorization for the Iraq War, have together been used more than 37 times in the last 16 years by the past three presidents to justify military action in 14 countries, including the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
Members of Congress as ideologically diverse as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan, a Democrat from the Madison area, and constitutional conservative Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, have come to share Lee’s view that the old AUMF has been abused. And it appeared Congress was prepared to begin the process of revoking it.
Then, according to Lee, Ryan intervened. Early Wednesday morning, the House Rules Committee stripped the amendment from the spending bill.
“Over the years, I’ve seen Republican leadership deploy every manner of undemocratic, underhanded tactics in Congress. But stripping my bipartisan amendment to repeal the 2001 AUMF — in the dead of night, without a vote — may be a new low from Speaker Ryan,” said Lee. “Congress has been missing in action on matters of war and peace for nearly 16 years. Republican leadership showed last night that they will do anything to maintain this status quo. Refusing to debate and vote on our ongoing wars is an abdication of our constitutional responsibility. Our men and women in uniform deserve better.”
Barbara Lee is right. Paul Ryan has chosen to serve Donald Trump rather than to exercise the authority of Congress to prevent abuses of executive power and the endless war that extends from those abuses. That is shameful — and dangerous.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com and @NicholsUprising
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