Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain promised to let senators offer any amendments to the defense bill, paving the way for votes on several issues that will directly challenge President Trump’s national security policy.
Senators have been clamoring for votes on measures to force Congress to decide on a new authorization for use of military force (AUMF) within six months, increase mandatory sanctions against North Korea, and reverse Trump’s ban on transgender troops. Other senators have filed amendments to allow for a round of military base closures and to increase parental leave for service members.
Though senators are expected to approve small tweaks to the bill, it is not clear that any of the several amendments will earn enough support to be adopted. But McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that he is “guardedly optimistic” that the end product would be better as a result of the debate and the “spirited discussion, which the Senate is supposed to have.”
The first of the significant amendments to come up for a vote will be a proposal from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to put a six-month expiration date on the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs that the government cites as its legal basis for operations against extremist groups in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Many senators believe those AUMFs do not cover current operations, but not every senator who wants to draft a new AUMF supports imposing a deadline on Congress to make that happen.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the leading Republican voice urging a new AUMF, warned of “the very risk associated with repealing such a vital law before we have something to replace it with.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) echoed those concerns Wednesday.
“All that we do to defeat al-Qaeda and ISIL rests on this AUMF,” he said on the Senate floor. “We cannot break faith with these brave men and women by removing the authority they rely upon … and leave them questioning whether elected officials in Washington understand what they do.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced on Tuesday that despite his initial concerns, he would support Paul’s effort to force an AUMF debate in Congress over the next six months.
“I think it is way past time, way past time, for Congress to take this up and for everybody to be on the record,” he said.