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Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump a Blank Check for Endless War

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The Speaker and his allies block Barbara Lee's drive to check presidential war making.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan had an opportunity not merely to reassert the authority of the chamber he is supposed to lead but also to steer the United States away from the dangerous course of endless war and steady subservience to an ever-more-powerful military-industrial complex. Ryan squandered that opportunity.

In so doing, he strengthened the hand of the man the speaker has disregarded the system of checks and balances in order to serve: Donald Trump.

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Trump's recklessness, ill-conceived alliances, and deference to generals and defense contractors has caused Democrats and Republicans to fret about handing him unlimited authority to order military strikes and interventions. To that end, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee secured bipartisan support on the House Appropriations Committee for her amendment to revoke the 2001 authorization for use of military force that three successive administrations have employed as a justification for military adventures abroad. Under the amendment, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to attach to the defense-spending bill, the 16-year-old AUMF would cease to be operative after eight months and Congress would have to debate whether to approve a new authorization.

When Lee was the only member of Congress to oppose the 2001 measure, the Democrat warned that it was so ill-defined that it could be misread as an excuse for military attacks and interventions that had little or nothing to do with the goals of a measure approved in response to the 9/11 attacks. Her concerns were well founded; according to The Hill, "That war authorization, passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as a 2002 authorization for the Iraq War, have together been used more than 37 times in the last 16 years by the past three presidents to justify military action in 14 countries, including the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria."

Members of Congress as ideologically diverse as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan, of Wisconsin, and Michigan conservative Republican Justin Amash have come to share Lee's view that the old AUMF has been abused. And it appeared Congress was prepared to begin the process of revoking it.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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