Peter Jennings: Hello again, everybody. This is Peter Jennings in New York. You were looking at the scene and a very cloudy and occasionally drizzly rainy day here in New York City. This is intended to be in New York and in Washington today, a national day of prayer and remembrance, which means of course--
David Remnick: Just three days after 9/11, on a day when the nation was mourning the victims of those attacks, Congress passed a joint resolution of enormous gravity. In just 60 words, representatives gave to the President the power to use all necessary and appropriate force against whoever had perpetrated or aided the attack. Not only that, he could also use military force to prevent future attacks of international terrorism. The President could now make war without having to go back to Congress, which is what the Constitution had always demanded.
The resolution was called the authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, and it eventually brought our country to war with Iraq, and was used to deploy American forces all over the world. The vote for AUMF in 2001 was unanimous, almost. In the entire House and the entire Senate, there was just one representative who voted no, Barbara Lee of California. What do you remember about that day? Describe the lead-up to the vote and the reaction you got.
Rep. Barbara Lee: I always remember standing with Elijah Cummings in the cloakroom in the back of the House Chamber, talking to Elijah, telling him how sad and how angry I was because of what had taken place but how I knew that we had to respond appropriately. I, like everyone else in the country, were very sad and really grieving and thinking about Flight 93 because I was ssitting in the Capitol and had to evacuate that morning. My chief of staff's cousin, Wanda Green, was a flight attendant on that flight. She, of course, as they took down that plane, which probably saved our lives, my life, she was killed. It was a very emotional moment for myself, but I had to--
David Remnick: I didn't know that. I'm sorry to hear that. I didn't know that.
Rep. Barbara Lee: We were personally impacted by what had taken place, and Wanda was on that flight, and I was in the Capitol. As history shows, Flight 93 was probably coming into the Capitol, and Wanda and the flight attendants took that plane down. We had to respond appropriately, but this authorization that had been presented was only a 60-word authorization, which really was a blank check to give over congressional authority to any president to wage war.
I went to the memorial, and remember I was the last person getting on the bus. It was a very gloomy, rainy day. The Dean of the National Cathedral gave his eulogy and his sermon. He said, "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore." It was at that moment I wrote that down on the program. When we got back to the Capitol, then it was at that moment I was very settled about my "no" vote.
"Mr. Speaker, Members, I rise today really with a very heavy heart, one that is filled with sorrow for the families and the loved ones who were killed and injured this week. Only the most foolish and the most callous would not understand the grief that has really gripped our people and millions across the world. This unspeakable act on the United States has really forced me, however, to rely on my moral compass, my conscience, and my God for direction.
September 11th changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet, I'm convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter.
However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Some of us must say, let's step back for a moment. Let's just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control."
Now, fast forward to Iraq, which was the next year, that once again, President Bush, wanted to use force, embedded in that Iraq authorization was the 9/11 authorization too. They used that as the basis to invade Iraq. Thousands of our troops, brave men and women, were killed, some have lifelong injuries. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, thousands of Iraqis killed, over a trillion dollars misspent. It was a terrible, terrible moment in the history of this country. That opened the door for ISIS and all of the other terrorist activities that we see all around the world now, including on the continent of Africa.
David Remnick: That's Barbara Lee talking with me about the authorization for the use of military force, the first of such measures, which took place in 2001. Congress passed another AUMF in 2002, and now over 20 years later, officials in both houses are pushing to repeal it. The mood in the country has changed tremendously, and yet the timing here is worth looking at closely.
A bill in the Senate to revoke AUMF passed 66 to 30 a few weeks ago, and that effort was led by Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, and Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana. I spoke with them both last week. This is Senator Kaine. It's probably worth remembering that in 2001.
Barbara Lee said, "I don't think the President should have the authority to wage war." For many members of Congress and in the commentariat, I should also say, that put her patriotism in question. What does it say that that is no longer the case?
Sen. Tim Kaine: Look, if you can't learn some lessons after 20 years of war, shame on you. I think that the 20 years of the war on terror and the war in Iraq, the repeated deployments. When have we had a war where people deployed six or seven times? That one in World War II, that one in Korea, Vietnam, there were multiple deployments, not six or seven deployments. You do six or seven deployments. What's your test case for what that means in the afterlife of somebody who's served? What does that mean for the VA? What does that mean for divorce rates? What does it mean for a million things?
I think we have learned some lessons. Let's also give Iraq credit. Iraq was an enemy. We topple that government. We then departed Iraq, I think in 2011, but then they asked us back in 2014 to help them defeat ISIS. We are there at their continued invitation, both to deal with ISIS and also to help them check Iranian aggression. We've beaten a sword into a plow share. A nation that was an enemy is now a partner. We have to give credit to the magnanimity of Iraqis as well but [crosstalk]
David Remnick: What a great, great deal of bloodshed in between.
Sen. Tim Kaine: Absolutely. Look, the blood-- There is this thing in our history where the bloodshed of World War II, Japan and Germany are strong allies. Now, the bloodshed of Vietnam War, Vietnam is getting closer and closer on our relationship. If we send a message and repealing the Iraq AUMF, this nation that was an enemy were now strategic partners. Then anybody who's an enemy of the United States can look at that and say, "The US doesn't have permanent enemies. The US is always going to try to figure out a way to turn an enemy into a partner." It's hard and it takes time, and may or may not happen but I think that's an important part of this.
David Remnick: Senator, you don't see that as a fairly sunny reading of the Iraq war?
Sen. Tim Kaine: Look, I do. I do. It's a reality there's 4,500 American troops were killed, tens of thousands of Americans were injured, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed. That's what haunts me about this. We did the 2002, the decision was made in three days, and it was rushed. Look what happened. Look at the human consequence of that. Yet, that's all a reality, and I'm haunted by it, that if the time had been taken, we might have avoided that and avoided a lot of other challenges. Yet at the same time, I do think you have to acknowledge that the US is working, and Iraq is working to make a relationship that is a positive one. In that positive relationship, maintaining a war authorization against Iraq is offensive, frankly, insulting.
Sen. Todd Young: Dangerous. These are authorizations still on the book that could conceivably be used by a future commander-in-chief to reengage us in various areas around the world. We just can't allow that to stand.
David Remnick: Senator Young, was there a road to Damascus moment for you on this? What changed between 9/11 and 2023 that made you feel that now there's a turning point and the AUMF second one had outlived its use?
Sen. Todd Young: For me, this really began when I served in the military. I attended the US Naval Academy and spent five years in the US Marine Corps. Though many smart people serve at the highest ranks in our military, you do get some insight into your leadership and recognize that they are fallible like anyone else. That was part of it. That shaped my perspective as I followed issues like engagement in the Iraq War. Then over a period of time, it became clear to me, as Tim indicated, that this was a conflict we rushed into, ill-advisedly.
I want to be critical, but not too critical, of members who served during that time and who authorized force in the wake of 9/11 and all the rest. It was pretty clear to me, and frankly, clear to my constituents, clear to my neighbors, that we'd made a mistake, and it costs so many lives. It cost us treasure. We just can't afford, especially in an era of strategic competition with China. We can't afford to make another mistake like this. The American people need to be able to hold accountable those of us who are charged on their behalf with making these decisions. It was a gradual process for me.
David Remnick: Now, Senator Young, you've both emphasized the bipartisan nature of this bill, but most of your Republican colleagues in the Senate are not necessarily with you. There are 49 Republicans in the Senate, 30 of them voted no and want to preserve the AUMF as we were discussing. Even if you disagree with them, what's the sticking point for them? What are the politics within the Republican caucus, and what do you expect to see going forward?
Sen. Todd Young: Almost without exception, the stated objectives from some of my colleagues, and it's a principled objection, is that this could, by repealing the '02 Iraq authority, somehow create an impression that the United States is withdrawing from the region. As Tim and I--
David Remnick: From the Middle East.
Sen. Todd Young: From the Middle East. From Iraq, in particular. As we have repeatedly reminded our colleagues, Iran right now is engaged in misinformation campaigns against the sitting Iraqi government, which was just formed in January. We think, and we believe, and this belief is shared by the sitting Iraqi government, that by repealing the 2002 AUMF, we send a message of solidarity with the people of Iraq and their government, and this demonstrates strength, so that we can work together against threats to their peace and security posed by Iran and others.
David Remnick: Senator Kaine, we're now in a moment when there is a grand war taking place in Europe, the biggest grand war since the Second World War.
Sen. Tim Kaine: Right. Yes.
David Remnick: Unless I am wrong, it seems to me that the politics of that war, in Congress, are in question, that the longer this war goes on, there's concern, certainly in Kiev, that congressional support for that war will recede. That there will be an exhaustion among the American people, that the 2024 election will bring Ukraine into debate. You've seen, for example, Governor DeSantis going back and forth trying to find some sort of firm ground for himself on the war in Ukraine. How much does the politics of Ukraine have to do with what's going on now with AUMF and how might it influence the future?
Sen. Tim Kaine: I still believe that as a member of both Armed Services and Foreign Relations in the Senate, that there is a strong bipartisan and bicameral support in Congress for investing and supporting Ukraine until they win this very, very important battle, started without any provocation. I think that the bipartisan support for Ukraine is very strong.
Senator Young: I agree.
Sen. Tim Kaine: There's two kinds of objection. It's strong, not unanimous. There are folks here, who, some for fiscal reasons and some because they don't view Ukraine necessarily as a core interest of the US, there's a small group of people who are not completely supportive. Then there's a second group that are raising legitimate questions. Are we investing the right way? Are we overseeing how the money is used to make sure it's really going to do what's intended? All those questions are legitimate.
We have to ask those questions, but I do think that it is still bipartisan, bicameral strong support, and that's going to last through the election cycle and beyond. The consequences of Russia being able to do this without consequence are just too grave around the world. It was interesting, as we were having the floor debate about the repeal of '02 AUMF, we had the bill on the floor for two weeks. It was four times longer than the declaration of war against Iraq.
We had a lot of amendments. There was opportunity for people to offer amendments dealing with Ukraine but folks didn't. They offered amendments about Iran or Iran-backed militias. The members of the Senate kept Ukraine separate from this and they understood that it is separate. I think you're going to see the same thing on the House side. Probably on the House side, as they take up our AUMF repeal, there's a good bipartisan group of supporters there, there'll probably be some discussions about Iran-related issues, but I don't think the Ukraine politics is going to get into this and knock it sideways.
David Remnick: Senator Young, a final question. It is striking the sense of bipartisanship, not only between the two of you but in large measure in the Senate, but if Donald Trump were president now, what would the Republican support for this be? How deep does this bipartisanship go?
Sen. Todd Young: I think most of those in the Senate who supported the 2002 repeal would continue to support its repeal. Let's remember that President Trump campaigned on trying to end the forever wars. I will say, whatever one thinks of his presidency and his record, we did not become embroiled in military conflicts abroad. This is consistent with the spirit of President Trump's stated foreign policy, but more importantly, it has broad-based support around the country. I don't think the votes would change markedly.
David Remnick: Senator Todd Young, Senator Tim Kaine, thank you both very much.
Sen. Tim Kaine: Thank you.
Sen. Todd Young: Thanks, David.
David Remnick: That was Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana. Earlier, we heard from Representative Barbara Lee of California, a Democrat.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.