Maine’s U.S. senators joined an overwhelming vote to repeal the resolution that gave a green light for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, an effort to return a basic war power to Congress 20 years after an authorization many now say was a mistake.
Iraqi deaths are estimated in the hundreds of thousands, and nearly 5,000 U.S. troops were killed in the war after President George W. Bush’s administration falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.
Senators voted 66-30 to repeal the 2002 measure and also the 1991 authorization that sanctioned the U.S.-led Gulf War. If passed by the House, the repeal would not be expected to affect any current military deployments, but lawmakers in both parties are increasingly seeking to claw back congressional powers over military strikes and deployments.
Supporters included most Democrats and nearly 20 Republicans who believe the repeal is crucial to prevent future abuses and to reinforce that Iraq is now a strategic partner of the United States. Both of Maine’s senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, are have supported repealing the authorization in recent years.
“This repeal is long past-due and I am glad the Senate voted to terminate what could be interpreted as open-ended authority for war,” King, who caucuses with Democrats, said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, opposed the vote by saying “terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us.” But Collins, who supported the Iraq war in 2002, told reporters this week that decades-old authorizations diminish the role of Congress.
The repeal’s future is less certain in the House, where 49 Republicans joined with Democrats in supporting a similar bill two years ago. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, has suggested he is open to supporting a repeal even though he previously opposed it, but Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has indicated he would like to instead replace it with something else.
President Donald Trump’s administration cited the 2002 Iraq war resolution as part of its justification for a 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, but the two war powers resolutions have otherwise rarely been used to justify presidential action. About 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government and assist and advise local forces.
A separate 2001 authorization for the global war on terror would remain in place under the bill, which President Joe Biden has said he will support.
The October 2002 votes to give Bush broad authority for the Iraq invasion were a defining moment for many members of Congress as the country debated whether a military strike was warranted. The U.S. was already at war then in Afghanistan, the country that hosted the al-Qaida plotters responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, something Iraq played no part in.
The Bush administration had drummed up support among members of Congress and the public for invading Iraq by promoting what turned out to be false intelligence alleging Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. After the initial 2003 invasion, American ground forces discovered that the allegations of nuclear or chemical weapons programs were baseless.
The U.S. overthrow of Iraq’s security forces precipitated a brutal sectarian fight and violent campaigns by Islamic extremist groups in Iraq. Car bombings, assassinations, torture and kidnapping became a part of daily life for years.
Some GOP senators opposing the repeal, including McConnell, have raised concerns about recent attacks against U.S. troops in Syria. A drone strike last week killed an American contractor and wounded five troops and another contractor, then a rocket attack wounded another service member. Iranian-backed militants are believed responsible for the attacks. Biden and his administration have argued that the repeal would not affect any response to Iran.
The pushback from McConnell comes amid a growing rift in the Republican Party on the U.S. role in the Middle East, with some echoing Trump’s “America First” message to argue against military intervention abroad. Other Republicans are concerned Congress is giving too much leeway to the president in matters of war.
“I think a lot of lessons have been learned over the last 20 years,” said Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, who led the repeal.
Story by Mary Clare Jalonick. Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.