July 16, 2019

Defense Secretary Nominee Mark Esper Agrees with Tammy Duckworth: Existing AUMFs Do Not Give Donald Trump Authority to Start War with Iran


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Under questioning from combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Secretary of Defense Nominee Mark Esper agreed with Senator Duckworth that the existing Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs) do not give the Trump Administration the legal authority to start a war with Iran. With the Trump Administration recklessly escalating tensions with Iran, Duckworth repeatedly and vocally reiterated in recent weeks that the administration does not have the legal authority to initiate a war with Iran without congressional approval. Video of Duckworth’s questions is available here.

“The U.S. Constitution vests with Congress the sole and solemn responsibility to declare war. However, over the past several years, administrations from both parties have used the existing AUMFs in a way that outstrips the intent of Congress and has-at best-dubious legal justifications. In a real-world example of current concern,” Duckworth asked, “do you believe that the 2001 AUMF or the 2002 AUMF provide the necessary legal authorization to use military force against Iran?”

Esper agreed with Duckworth, answering “no,” the AUMFs do not provide the Administration with the right “to conduct a war” with Iran.

Duckworth also pressured Esper to commit to conducting a major effort to change the culture of the military to root out sexual assault and to prioritize improving logistics infrastructure since we are in an era of great power competition. And she called on Esper to follow his ethics agreement involving his former employer, Raytheon. Yesterday, Duckworth met with Esper to discuss the need for Congress to replace our outdated AUMFs as well as the national security threats facing our nation and the need for the Trump Administration to prioritize investments in logistics infrastructure.