The Senate Just Missed a Chance to Take It Away From Him.
Republican Senator Rand Paul tried to take away Trump’s blank check for war. As part of the annual defense bill (the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA), he tried to block the bill from going forward unless the Senate voted on his amendment to repeal the current “endless war” military authorization.
On September 13, his effort ultimately failed. Instead of debating and voting on the United States’ global, endless war, the Senate voted to kill his amendment. See how your Senator voted here: the “yes” votes mean they killed the amendment and avoided talking about the global war at all, and a “no” vote means they wanted to bring the issue to the Senate floor for consideration. Be sure to thank your Senators if they voted “no”!
It’s not the first time a Member of Congress has tried to do something about this. It’s been a persistent problem since 2001, when Congress created the “blank check” in the first place. But it’s an even more urgent problem now, because now it’s President Trump who holds that massive power.
This issue will come up again—here’s what you need to know about Trump’s blank check for war, and why it’s so important for us to take it away from him.
WHAT IS THE AUMF?
Immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001, then-President Bush announced a “global war on terror,” and asked Congress for wide military authority. Under the Constitution, it’s Congress’ responsibility to decide when and where to go to war—not the President’s.
Congress gave President Bush what he asked for. They overwhelmingly passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force—most people just call it “the AUMF.” It was a short, 60-word sentence authorizing the president to take military action that he deemed “necessary and appropriate.” It didn’t include many limits—no restrictions on where to use military force, and it never expires.
Only one Member of Congress voted against it at the time. Rep. Barbara Lee warned that we shouldn’t “become the evil we deplore” by jumping into limitless war.
She was right: the AUMF proved to be dangerous. That short resolution was used by the Bush administration not only to launch a massive war in Afghanistan and beyond, but also to detain people without charge or fair trial at Guantanamo Bay, to torture detainees, to use surveillance without warrants, and more. President Obama then relied on the “blank check” to justify his drone wars. These actions have harmed human rights and civil liberties, and made us less safe.
Fast forward to today, and the AUMF is still on the books. And now it’s in President Trump’s hands.
WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?
This places massive amounts of power in the President’s hands. Remember, Congress—not the President—is supposed to decide when to go to war. But as long as this “blank check” is available, the administration can just cite it as legal authority without going to Congress for real debate and vote.
That lets Congress off the hook, too. They can avoid taking controversial positions if they don’t have to vote on war. They can just let things happen on autopilot and blame the administration when things go wrong (like that reckless Syrian missile strike Trump ordered in April).
This is a lot of power for Trump to hold, with no checks or balances. He has promised to “load Guantanamo up,” to commit war crimes, to bring back torture, and voiced support for a Muslim registry. He’s already implemented a Muslim and refugee ban citing national security concerns, and ramped up military operations that have destroyed civilian populations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond.
The blank check is a dangerous thing in Trump’s hands. Congress should be finding a way to take it away from him.
TELL YOUR MOCs: NO BLANK CHECK FOR TRUMP
The Senate vote on the Paul Amendment shows us that Congress very divided on this issue. Obviously, they need to hear from you.
Hold your senators accountable. The decision to use military force is one of the highest responsibilities of the U.S. government, and the danger of unchecked war authority in Trump’s hands is too great to get this wrong. Tell your MoCs you want to cancel Trump’s blank check for war.
Find out how your senators voted on the Paul amendment here. If they voted “yes,” it means they blocked repeal from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. If they voted “no,” it means they wanted to debate and vote on repealing the AUMF. Call your senators’ offices and tell them what you think about their vote.
Sample Call Dialogue
Caller: Hello, my name is [name] and I’m a constituent from [part of state]. I’m calling about Senator [name]’s recent vote on the Paul Amendment to repeal Trump’s blank check for war.
Option 1: If the senator voted yes
Caller: I’m deeply disappointed that Senator [name] blocked this from even being debated and voted on in the Senate. It’s Congress’ job to decide when we go to war, and not the President’s. The senator should at least have to vote on it.
Staffer: Thanks for your comments. The senator is concerned that repealing the current authorization without having a replacement could jeopardize our current military missions.
Caller: But that’s exactly what this amendment was for—to debate and vote on whether to repeal the AUMF. The senator should have at least gone on record and voted on it, not blocked it from being considered on the floor. I also urge the senator to reconsider—if Congress wants to replace the “blank check” with a new, more limited authorization, that's a great idea. That’s exactly why we should repeal the current AUMF, so we can decide what to do next. The 2001 AUMF has been on the books for 16 years, and it’s been used to justify horrible policies that threaten human rights and make us less safe.
Staffer: I’ll relay your concerns to the senator.
Caller: Great, please do. Will the senator commit to debating and voting on this the next time it comes up? Will the senator be voting to repeal the AUMF next time there’s an opportunity?
Staffer: I’ll let the senator know you called with these questions.
Caller: Thank you. I’ll be watching very closely to see what the senator does on this next time.
Option 2: If the senator voted no
Caller: Hi! I want to thank the senator for doing [his/her] job and attempting to debate and vote on our endless war.
Staffer: Thank you, I’ll be sure to share that with the senator.
Caller: Yes, please do. But, it’s not enough just to debate and vote—I’m deeply concerned about President Trump having the power of the 2001 AUMF in his hands, and I want Senator [name] to help repeal it. Will the senator commit to continuing to force a vote on this issue, and to voting for repeal?
Staffer: The senator agrees that this is something Congress needs to weigh in on, and will be looking at all available options for how to proceed.
Caller: Great, I’ll be watching to make sure [he/she] takes every opportunity to repeal this blank check. It’s been used by three presidents now for 16 years, and they’ve used it to justify human rights abuses and endless war. It’s far past time to repeal it. Will the senator commit to supporting efforts for repeal?
Staffer: I’ll be sure to relay your concerns to the senator.
Caller: Thank you, I’ll be following this closely.