The U.S. Senate rejected an amendment on Wednesday that would have forced the repeal of war resolutions used as the legal basis for U.S. military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and against extremists in several other countries.
The Senate voted 61 to 36 to table, or kill, the measure, which would have put an end after six months to authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in 2001 and 2002. That was far more than the 51 needed to pass.
The legislation, offered by Republican Senator Rand Paul, comes at a time when lawmakers are struggling with the White House for a bigger say in foreign policy. Rand's measure was aimed at asserting the constitutional right of Congress to approve military action, rather than the president.
Lawmakers are concerned the 2001 AUMF, passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to authorize the fight against al Qaeda and affiliates, has been used too broadly by presidents as the legal basis for a wide range of military action in many countries.
Paul's measure was included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a must-pass annual bill that sets spending policy for the Pentagon.
The majority of support came from Democrats, who joined Paul in arguing that it is long past time for Congress to debate a new authorization for the use of force.
"We should oppose unauthorized, undeclared, unconstitutional war. At this particular time, there are no limits on war," Paul said.
Republicans control majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Only two other Republicans voted with Paul.
Opponents of the measure said passing it without a new war authorization in place would endanger U.S. forces already deployed in conflicts overseas by generating uncertainty about their mission.
"Repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs without simultaneously passing a new authorization would be premature, it would be irresponsible," said Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
However, McCain and several other lawmakers who spoke against Paul's amendment said they would back efforts to pass a new authorization through so-called "regular order," including Senate hearings and debate.
A growing number of lawmakers argue that it is long past time to repeal the 2001 authorization, noting that using it is especially questionable for the campaign against Islamic State, which did not exist when it was given, and fights against al Qaeda in Syria and elsewhere.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by Franklin Paul and Andrew Hay)