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June 11, 2015

House Narrowly Defeats Rep. Schiff Amendment Forcing Vote on ISIS War Authorization

Washington, DC -- Today, the House of Representatives narrowly rejected an amendment to the annual Defense Appropriations bill by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) by a vote of 196-231, despite bipartisan support. 

Schiff's amendment would have required Congress to debate and vote on a new authorization for use of military force (AUMF) by March 31st, 2016.  The amendment would accomplish this by prohibiting funds in the defense appropriations bill from being used for Operation Inherent Resolve – which is currently targeting ISIS through airstrikes in Iraq and Syria -- unless Congress passes a new AUMF that authorizes the ongoing military action.

"Ten months into an undeclared war against ISIS, Congress yet again dodged its responsibility to authorize the use of force," said Schiff. "While our pilots and special forces risk it all, Congress refuses to do its job. Congressional abdication of our responsibility to declare war, or to deny authorization for war, sets a terrible precedent and shifts war-making powers substantially and inexorably towards the Executive. While this is another setback for a Congress long derelict in its duty, I will keep pushing for a debate and vote on a new AUMF."

The full debate on the Schiff amendment can be found here.Schiff's floor speech in support of his amendment is below:

"Ten months ago we entered into the war against ISIS. During the course of that war, we have put our pilots and other service members at considerable risk and we have suffered casualties. We've expended hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. And as yet there is no end in sight to this conflict.

"In the beginning of the conflict, the administration took the position that it didn't need an authorization from Congress, although it desired one. The administration relied on an authority that was passed in 2001 and 2002. An authority passed in the hours after 9/11 that authorized the use of force against those responsible for the attack, al Qaeda.

"It also relied on the authorization passed in 2002 which authorized the use of force against Iraq. In fact, neither of those authorities is on point. The use of force that we are employing now against ISIS is being used against an organization that didn't exist on 9/11, and in fact is often at war with the organization that was responsible for 9/11, that is al Qaeda.

"Nonetheless, the administration has asserted that it can rely on these authorities and it asked congress to pass a new authorization, because it felt that was the preferential course. At the time and before the midterm elections, the leadership in the House of Representatives took the position that a lame duck Congress should not be voting on a new war and the vote must await until after the elections.

"And so the Congress abdicated its constitutional responsibility to have a debate and a war declaration. And instead we awaited the elections. And the elections came and the elections went.

"And those of us who raised the cry that it was time for congress to do its job were met with a new response. We can't vote on an authorization now because the administration hadn't sent us one. Even though there's nothing in the constitution that provides that Congress shall declare war only when asked by an executive.

"But nonetheless we sat once again derelict until the administration sent us a draft authorization. Then there was a new explanation for inaction. We couldn't act on this new authorization because we didn't like the terms of it.

"This was irrespective of the fact that the congress has all the power it needs to change that draft or craft in a completely new authorization, and still we did nothing.

"And then the explanation was given, we couldn't act on a war authorization because we had to vote on the negotiations with Iran, even though those negotiations were not yet complete. And so we had a vote on the negotiations with Iran.

"And now we are here once again with a series of shifting rationales for why we don't have a debate on this war ongoing now for 10 months.

"This must come to an end. The amendment that I've offered this evening would provide that no funds shall be expended for the war against ISIS after March 31st of next year unless Congress passes an authorization.

"If this is worth fighting ISIS, and I believe it is, it's worth having Congress do its job. If we're going to ask our service members risk their lives, we ought to have the courage ourselves to take a vote on this war. And with that, I reserve the balance of my time."