Jul 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan senators unveil bill to claw back Congress' national security powers

Mike Lee with Bernie Sanders and Chris Murphy
Sen. Mike Lee (C) with Sen. Bernie Sanders (L) and Sen. Chris Murphy (R). Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) unveiled draft legislation Tuesday intended to overhaul the role of Congress in national security matters, including by reclaiming authority on war powers, arms exports and national emergency declarations.

Why it matters: All three senators have been critical of the executive branch's unilateral decision-making on key national security issues, including both President Trump and President Biden's attacks against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria without congressional authorization.

  • Murphy, Sanders and Lee also co-sponsored legislation during the Trump administration to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has created one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.
  • “I believe that we have become far too comfortable with the United States engaging in military interventions all over the world, and the time is long overdue for Congress to reassert its constitutional role in matters of war and peace," Sanders said in a statement.

Details, according to a bill summary:

  • War powers reform: The bill would sunset existing Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs), outline requirements for future AUMFs, cut off funding for unauthorized military actions, and shorten the 60 day window for the president to end "hostilities" that aren't authorized by Congress.
  • Arms export reform: The bill would require Congress to give an affirmative vote prior to authorizing arms sales of the "most destructive and potentially destabilizing weapons," and would allow controversial items to be removed from group votes approving arm sales.
  • National emergency reform: The bill would require Congress proactively approve emergency declarations (rather than attempt to override them), end "permanent" emergencies that date back decades, and ensure emergency powers are specifically related to the declared emergency.

What to watch: Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) is expected to unveil similar legislation in the House in the coming weeks.

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