Spotlight: War Powers Reform

Off The Sidelines
4 min readJan 12, 2020



Without Congressional authorization or a clear strategy, President Trump made an impulsive decision in January that put us at risk of another war in the Middle East.

Make no mistake: Gen. Soleimani was directly responsible for the deaths of many Americans and our allies. But President Trump’s reckless actions and lack of a clear, steady foreign policy have created more insecurity and risk for our entire country.

This past November, I introduced my War Powers Reform Resolution as a way to stop endless wars and curtail unchecked presidential power. President Trump’s decision to escalate tensions with Iran, and his administration’s inadequate justification, have clarified the urgent need for such a resolution.

This Off the Sidelines Spotlight is focused on my War Powers Reform Resolution, which would restore Congress’ authority over our country’s war powers.


What power does the president have to declare and wage war?

The Constitution makes it clear that presidents do not have the unilateral authority to send our service members into hostilities without explicit authorization from Congress.

Our framers understood the danger of giving any one person too much power, and the fact that when war is waged, it is the American people who bear the burden.

Are there laws on the books that check a president’s authority to wage war?

The last time Congress formally declared a “state of war” was in 1942. Since then, presidents have relied on “Authorizations for the Use of Military Force” (AUMF) to engage in military conflicts overseas.

In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution — a statute intended to check a president’s power to wage a drawn-out and undeclared war — in response to the conflict in Vietnam.

The resolution requires that 1) The president notify Congress within 48 hours of sending troops into conflict in the absence of an authorization; and 2) That the use of force last no more than 60–90 days, unless extended or authorized by Congress. To be clear, this provision is not a free pass to wage war for up to 90 days without authorization.

Where do we stand today?

To understand where we are today, we have to go back to the turn of this century. In 2001, Congress granted President George W. Bush Authorization for the Use of Military Force to bring the parties responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks to justice. A year later, Congress granted a second AUMF authorizing military action against the perceived threat in Iraq.

But since 9/11, successive presidents have unilaterally used these outdated AUMFs to justify military operations against new adversaries, in different countries, without a defined end. The result? Hundreds of thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars spent.

How does the latest escalation in tensions with Iran come into play?

Kirsten supports the House-passed War Powers Resolution that would terminate President Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran without an authorization. While the U.S. would still have the right to defend itself against imminent attack, the language, if passed into law, would mean that any war with Iran would have to be explicitly authorized by Congress.

However, this is a short-term fix to a much broader problem. Kirsten’s War Powers Reform Resolution would apply similar checks on presidential power to all foreign wars.

Specifically, what would Kirsten’s War Powers Reform Resolution do?

The Resolution would:

  • Repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, preventing President Trump from justifying unauthorized action in Iran and Iraq.
  • Set clear and defined goals for the use of military force abroad, requiring that all AUMFs last only two years and requiring the president to provide Congress with the specific military objective, enemy and location for the military action, along with a clear justification for that action.
  • Restore Congress’ power to end wars, by allowing them to narrow or repeal an AUMF through the same expedited procedures used for creating one, and to deny funding appropriations for unauthorized wars.
  • Cut funding for broadening and perpetuating wars beyond Congressional authorization.

READ | Kirsten’s op-ed in the New York Daily News on Congress’ duty to check Trump on Iran.

LISTEN | NPR’s Radiolab tells the story of the 2001 AUMF, issued in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, and how it became the legal foundation for the “war on terror.”

READ | The Washington Post dives deep into Congress’ role in authorizing military force.

WATCH | Kirsten discusses Trump’s shortsighted and reckless approach to foreign policy and the ways in which it has endangered our country on MSNBC.

READ | New York Magazine on how Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Michigan) is leading the House effort to limit Trump’s military action against Iran.

WATCH | Kirsten stops by CNN’s New Day to discuss the Trump administration’s Iran briefing.

We can put a stop to the endless wars and prevent them from happening in the future by reclaiming Congress’ full foreign policy and national security role.

Click here to become a citizen co-sponsor of the War Powers Reform Resolution.



Off The Sidelines

Off The Sidelines is @SenGillibrand’s movement to help women run for office—and win.