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Senators say Mattis, Tillerson open to updating president's war powers

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are "very open" to updating the president's war powers that have been in place and unchanged since after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, after a number of senators met with the two top Trump cabinet members on the topic Wednesday.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, said Tillerson and Mattis are open to eliminating the current Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF), if a replacement is ready. Congress passed the AUMF in 2001 to give the president broad authority to retaliate against anyone who contributed to the terrorist attacks, but the AUMF has continued to justify military intervention abroad for more than 15 years.

"I'm confident that they'll work with us," Corker said of Tillerson and Mattis.

Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, are spearheading a bipartisan push to update the president's war powers and require congressional approval before the president can take military action. Kaine also told reporters after meeting with Tillerson and Mattis that the two seem open to changing the AUMF, not because they believe they need to legally to intervene abroad, but because they think it would be good to have Congress' support.

Earlier Wednesday, the State Department issued a statement to Corker saying the current AUMF is sufficient.

"The United States has sufficient legal authority to prosecute the campaign against al-Qa'ida and associated forces, including against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)," the State Department said in a letter to Corker. "This legal authority includes the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) which authorizes the use of military force against these groups. Accordingly, the administration is not seeking revisions to the 2001 AUMF or additional authorizations to use force."

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Democrats in particular -- and some Republicans as well -- are arguing that Congress never intended the AUMF, passed in the urgent days after Sept. 11, 2001, to authorize the president's authority the way it is used today, and Congress should have approval before military intervention abroad.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said he was in Congress when it passed the 2001 authorization, said it was never intended to be used to fight ISIS, and told reporters it's important for Congress to pass a different resolution on how to deal with ISIS so it isn't an "open-ended" issue.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, took to Twitter to offer a similar sentiment.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, introduced a proposal in June to repeal the 2001 AUMF, and the proposal passed the House Appropriations Committee. But the proposal went nowhere, and Lee accused House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, of quietly killing the legislation.

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