WASHINGTON, D.C. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this morning, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) reinforced his support for a bipartisan proposal for a new Authorization for Use of Militarized Force (AUMF) to combat terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. The proposal preserves the president’s vital constitutional authority as commander-in-chief of the U.S. military to take action to protect Americans from a constantly-evolving, and geographically-dispersed terrorist threat, while also ensuring greater congressional input, oversight, and accountability of the decision-making process. The current AUMF in place has not been modified in 17 years, and Portman urged his colleagues to work together in a bipartisan manner to create language for a new AUMF tailored to today’s threats.

An excerpt of Portman’s questioning can be found below and a video can be found here.

Portman: “I don’t think a new AUMF is legally needed to deal with ISIS and associated forces. I think you’re right about that, and others in this committee would agree with that for the most part. But what we’re trying to do is deal with the fact that it’s been 17 years and this needs to be modified. One of the major modifications is to put us on the spot every four years to deal with this issue. I commend what Senator Flake, Senator Kaine, Senator Coons, Senator Young, Senator Nelson, and others who have worked in a bipartisan way to come up with this formula. I’m just confused as to why someone would want to live with the existing AUMF, which is in place, rather than having improvement. My first question would be to you Mr. Bellinger, do you think the current AUMF text is better than the proposal by Senators Flake and Kaine, in that regard?”

Honorable John B.Bellinger III, Former National Security Advisor Legal Counsel: “I think we lawyers call that a leading question. You answered that question better than I, Senator. I was going to make this point. Of course all of these concerns that Senator Menendez and Senator Cardin, I mean I understand these concerns. This is an issue, from your point of view, is the perfect better than the good. And I just don’t think the executive branch and much of Congress seems to be prepared to support either a sunset or a requirement for a new authorization every time a country or a group is added. I just don’t see that happening, you’ll be passing AUMFs every few months if that’s the requirement.”

Portman: “Let me interrupt you a moment, I don’t think that’s the issue. I don’t think Congress would be passing a new AUMF periodically. I think Congress would sit on it, and I think some members of this Senate would choose to filibuster it and I think we would not be providing the ability for our armed forces to be able to protect us from a very real terrorist threat that’s out there. That’s the point. I’ve been on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue and I was in the counsel’s office at the White House, but my gosh you guys, if we’re talking about a sunset, we can’t seem to be able to pass health care around here. We can’t seem to pass some of the basic stuff that would be easier than this, so I don’t agree with you that Congress would be periodically passing AUMFs. I think the danger is, if the alternative is nothing then you have no congressional accountability, frankly, because you don’t have the quadrennial review, you don’t have Congress taking this up every four years. If the alternative is a sunset than then my fear is that we’re in a very dangerous situation where you could have this authority lapse and I think it’s not unlikely that it would lapse. I think it’s more likely that it would than it wouldn’t. The good thing about the quadrennial review is that it requires that the existing AUMF stay in place until there’s a new AUMF.”

Mr. Bellinger: “I agree. To answer your question, I do think this is an improvement. It may not improve as much as some would like but it does have the quadrennial review and it also requires review every time a new group is added or a new country is added.”

Portman:I think that is a big change, and Senator Kaine, I’m sure, is going to talk about this and why he feels so strongly about this, but that’s been one of his points to say, this gives the executive too much authority to be able to name a group that may or may not fit under what Congress’ intent was. I appreciate both of your testimony, and I appreciate that fact that the chairman is willing to have another hearing on this because there are obviously a lot of issues that we disagree with, but I hope at the end of the day, with Senator Menendez’s background on this and with Senator Cardin’s background on this, and others on the other side who are very knowledgeable about this, Senator Ball Paul has very strong views on this, we can figure out a compromise. Otherwise we’re right where we are now. Our ability to respond to the ongoing threat will not be as effective and Congress will not have the authority or the accountability that I think we should have on us every four years to figure this out.”

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