Congress has been sharply divided along mostly party lines on whether to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that has allowed the executive branch to circumvent legislators and approve the use of force in the global war against terrorism.

But perhaps lawmakers could consider a response to a plausible but indirect threat, such as a cyber attack, to find common ground on the future of the AUMF, said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee July 20.

Speaking during a panel with fellow HASC member Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado, Thornberry acknowledged that updating the AUMF “may not be possible” with such a sharply divided Congress with the House led by Democrats and the Senate run by Republicans.

However, lawmakers could “step back on something that is not an immediate crisis, and think through how we would authorize the use of force, like a cyber war,” he noted.

The House voted in June to repeal the AUMF within eight months, and also attached an amendment to its recently passed version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prohibit a war with Iran without congressional approval. The AUMF debate is expected to be a sticking point as the House and Senate prepare to work together on a conference NDAA bill.

A cyber war “presents some real challenges that we need to think through,” he said. “It’s not just electrons going back forth. There are physical consequences, [and] people can die.”

But since it is not as current or direct as the U.S. military’s ongoing war against terrorism for the past 18 years, it could be considered under a more bipartisan lens, he added.

Maybe what we need to think … to get away from the partisanship that has engulfed us is a problem – but not an immediate problem,” he said.

Slotkin, a freshman House member who previously served as a CIA analyst and a policy adviser for the National Security Council, the State Department and Defense Department, said that while she supports the repeal of the AUMF itself, she agreed that the U.S. government is “very unprepared” for how to tackle the changing nature of warfare and that there is an opportunity there for bipartisan cooperation.

As the representative for Michigan’s 8th congressional district, she noted that a cyber attack on her state’s critical infrastructure could cause multiple deaths.

“If that happened intentionally and 26 elderly people froze in their homes, what is the proportional response to that?” she said.