Congress dodges ISIS bill on its way out of town

Is Congress avoiding ISIS debate?
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Is Congress avoiding ISIS debate? 02:13

Story highlights

  • Congress leaves D.C. to campaign full-time, with no vote yet on ISIS
  • Republicans Democrats for not vote, Democrats blame Republicans
  • Some members of Congress are openly appalled that their colleagues left town
The smell of exhaust from idling cars fills up the Capitol parking lot. Congressional aides have their engines revved -- ready to whisk their bosses to train stations and airports as soon as they cast their last vote.
It's a familiar scene when Congress is getting ready to leave town, especially for an extended period. But this time the race for a six-week respite feels different.
There is bipartisan consensus that the United States is now at war with ISIS and that Congress should be a part of the decision-making process on how to deal with that, by passing a new authorization for military force.
But Congress took off to go campaign full time to try to keep their jobs rather than staying to do their jobs.
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"There is broad agreement in the country that this ISIS group is a threat," Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pennsylvania, told CNN.
"So why not stay and debate it and not go home if your constituents believe it's a threat?" we asked.
"I don't disagree," Fattah replied. "I'm prepared to vote yes. So I'm not ducking any vote."
"It's ridiculous," Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, said a few minutes later.
"As if there is not enough to do and it's not just the war issues, it's immigration reform, ENDA (Employment Nondiscrimination Act) -- it's a number of different bills that have been filed that have bipartisan support," Polis said.
It is true that rank-and-file House members, especially those like Fattah and Polis who are in the minority party, don't have much choice but to follow the schedule leaders lay out.
Still, as we weaved through the slew of waiting cars to talk to lawmakers before they left, it was striking -- but not surprising -- the way blame was tossed around.
Republicans blamed the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"The problem is that we have a do-nothing Senate," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said.
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Republicans also blamed the president.
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina, said he'd be glad to vote for a new use-of-force authorization against ISIS.
"I wish the President would ask for one," Hudson said.
Democrats noted that leaving now has become a tradition to help the House, where Republicans are a majority.
"The House of Representatives runs every two years, and for many, many years the House has adjourned for the month of October." Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said.
Some senators were openly appalled that colleagues were heading home.
Freshman Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, had publicly urged her colleagues to stay, to no avail.
"We need to be here we need to debate this issue," Fischer told us.
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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is on the ballot in November, but hers is a safe seat. Going home to campaign is not her first priority.
"My job is to be in the Capitol working for the people of Maine and the American people and that's where I think we all belong now," said Collins, standing in the Capitol parking lot, pointing to the dome.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who won his big primary fight earlier this year and should face an easy reelection in November, had a trademark pithy synopsis.
"We seem to be more worried about who runs the place than how the place runs," he said.
Ultimately, all the lawmakers who complained and called it important to stay got in their cars and left, too.
There's no reason to stay -- there are no more votes until after the election.