Democratic, GOP senators push Congress to retake war powers 'before it's too late'

Bill would require president to obtain authorization from Congress before various actions, including arms exports

An improbable alliance of Democratic and Republican senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would reassert Congressional war powers and establish new checks on the president’s ability to take military action without approval from lawmakers.

Introduced by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the bill would require the president to obtain authorization from Congress before various actions, including the use of military force, weapons exports, and use of emergency powers. The authorizations would have to meet certain guidelines, such as a "sunset" date," in order to be enacted.

"Before it's too late, Congress needs to reclaim its rightful role as co-equal branch on matters of war and national security," Murphy said in a statement. "The bipartisan National Security Powers Act will make sure that there is a full, open and public debate on all major national security decisions, such as war making, arms sales and emergency declarations."

Under the legislation, any presidential military action taken without Congressional authorization would be subject to an automatic end to funding after a limited period. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass, will introduce a similar bill in the House.

HOUSE VOTES TO REVOKE 1957, 1991 WAR AUTHORIZATIONS

Lee said the legislation was necessary because past presidents from both parties had usurped Congress’s prerogative to determine if, when, and how we go to war."

"Now America’s global standing, treasure, and brave servicemembers are being lost in conflicts the people’s legislators never debated," Lee said. "In areas where the Constitution grants broad powers to Congress, Congress is ignored. 

"The National Security Powers Act will change that and return these checks and balances to our government."

Sanders said he hoped the legislation would "lead to a larger discussion, both in the Congress and among the public, about the uses of military force in our foreign policy.

"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 added.

The legislation was introduced amid a broad bipartisan push in both houses of Congress to rein in presidential wartime powers. Scrutiny intensified after President Biden’s recent decision to launch airstrikes against Iran-linked militia groups near the Iraq-Syria border.

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Last month, House lawmakers voted to revoke 1991 authorization for use of military force that was first passed ahead of the Gulf War, and a 1957 provision that authorized the use of force in defense of Middle Eastern nations from "any country controlled by international communism." 

In a separate action, the House voted to repeal a 2002 authorization issued ahead of the second Iraq war, though that measure drew some pushback from Republicans.