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Vote on war against ISIS? Don't be silly

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 10:46 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Borger: In topsy-turvy world of Washington, parties doing their best to avoid Congress vote on ISIS
  • Republicans suing Obama for overuse of authority yet giving him a free pass on military action
  • Democrats fear a congressional vote's impact on midterms, conflicted on presidential authority
  • Borger: Governing will have to wait until the election is over

(CNN) -- We all understand that the closer Congress gets to an election, the more risk-averse it becomes. Members just want to get re-elected and aren't looking to take any chances. That's why lame-duck, post-election sessions are sadly often the most productive: Once members feel safe (or are even on their way out of office), they can actually do some real work.

So the aerodynamics of Congress as it gets close to an election are this: Stop. Go home. Avoid real votes.

Par for the course. Except for this: Republicans have recently made a fetish of complaining that President Barack Obama won't let them vote on things. He does too much without us, they say. Too many executive actions. Too many new regulations. They even voted to sue him over his so-called abuse of power. "Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?" House Speaker John Boehner intoned mightily on the House floor. "Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?"

But wait. Are these the same people who now are, um, ducking a vote on congressional authorization for action against ISIS? While Boehner told CNN's Dana Bash that while "it would be in the nation's interest" to "speak" on this question, he said it was up to the President to request it. "We've not gotten that."

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

So, does the White House intend to send something wide-ranging to Boehner? Not exactly. Instead there will be a vote to authorize the arming of the Syrian rebels. While the President would "welcome" further congressional action, a senior administration official says, "we believe we have the authority that is necessary" to wage war against ISIS.

Alphonse, meet Gaston.

Hagel: If ISIS allowed to continue it will be threat to 'homeland'

Not that it's a surprise. We all know that in the world in which we live, Congress -- with an approval rating of 14% -- wants to take responsibility for things that are good and avoid responsibility for things that are risky.

But here's where each party makes us scratch our heads. In the past, Republicans have believed -- strongly -- in the thesis that the chief executive has strong unilateral war-making authority. (George W. Bush went to Congress to approve the Iraq war, but only after much debate and pressure -- and even his vice president opposed the idea.) So Boehner's position has historical precedent. Except when you consider it in terms of the recent domestic debate: Obama can't issue a domestic regulation, but he can unilaterally decide to go to war? Huh?

The Democrats take the exact opposite posture. The President can issue strong policy regulations and orders when it comes to health care and the environment, but he shouldn't act without Congress when it comes to war.

Ah, except in this case, because a Democrat is President. And because Democrats are worried a vote on the use of force could hurt them with their base in the election, which already looks perilous for their party.

Some unendangered Democrats have publicly called for a vote, but their leaders are much more sheepish. "Right now we believe, as the President has stated, that he has the authority he needs," says House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. For now, at least.

So case closed? Not quite. There are plans this week to vote on the narrower proposition that has bipartisan support: arming the Syrian rebels. But what about the larger issue of voting to authorize war against ISIS? Yea or nay?

Check back -- after the election. That's when politicians vote.

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