President Barack Obama’s request for war authority to fight ISIS was on newsmakers’ lips during the Sunday talk shows, but whether Congress can actually deliver one didn’t become any clearer.
While there’s appetite in Washington to create a new Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, that would define the fight against ISIS and enshrine it in legislation, legislators are expected to spar in the coming weeks over the shape of such a measure. Obama sent Congress his draft this week, six months after the U.S.-led coalition began pounding ISIS from the air.
“The President has given them a roadmap to follow. They can take that or they can come up with something else, but they can’t take a pass on this important issue,” White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
McDonough said the administration gave Congress “a good place to start,” but he is equally mindful that there is contentious disagreement over provisions included in the White House draft.
From a three-year limit to a check on launching “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling Obama’s proposal either too restrictive or too broad – but few are calling it just right.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, a hawkish Republican, is leading the charge for those who believe the President should get near-free rein to combat ISIS.
“I think we should not restrain the President of the United States,” McCain said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Instead, Congress should use its constitutional “power of the purse” to sound off if the war effort heads down the wrong path.
“But to restrain him in our authorization of him taking military action I think, frankly, is unconstitutional and eventually leads to 535 commanders-in-chief,” McCain said referring to all members of Congress.
McCain said while it’s “probably appropriate” to debate a new authorization of military force, it’s also “not absolutely necessary” to pass a new AUMF.
In its military campaign against ISIS, the U.S. has relied on authority granted under two previous AUMFs from 2001 and 2002, which launched the global fight against al Qaeda and spawned the Iraq war, respectively. The new authorization would repeal the 2002 authorization, and Obama said he would also like to tackle the 2001 authorization with Congress.
Obama has also said that while the new AUMF would show the world that the U.S. is united in its resolve to defeating ISIS, he doesn’t need a new authorization to continue the military effort against ISIS.
And it’s that common lack of urgency and political divisions in Congress that will make it difficult for lawmakers to agree on language for a joint resolution to fight ISIS.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” it’s “very important” for Congress to not only pass an authorization, but to pass one that checks the President’s power.
If Congress doesn’t pass an AUMF for the fight against ISIS, Schiff said it shows “that Congress can’t get its act together for one thing and it also says to future presidents, that Congress is basically an historical anachronism in terms of its power to declare war, that we’re no longer relevant in that debate.”
Schiff also said unless Congress repeals the 2001 AUMF that has served in part as the legal basis for military action against ISIS, the three-year limit included in Obama’s proposal would essentially be worthless.
“That’s worrying to a lot of Democrats, because it means that when the new one expires, the new President can simply rely on that old authorization and say that gives me the authority to go after whoever I want, wherever I want, in any way I want,” Schiff said.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress will “begin a robust set of hearings” on the AUMF to debate the issue. But he made it clear it will be a tough task.
“Look, a 60-vote Senate no doubt makes things very difficult to happen,” Corker said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”
He said he hopes Congress can pass a bill with language that “can in fact pass muster in both houses of Congress” and said it’s important for Congress to pass an authorization on the fight against ISIS.
“We should act, not just debate,” Corker said. “Obviously the President sent something over, that’s a beginning point.”
But the debating over the war authorization over the coming weeks won’t just serve to define the scope of military authority Congress wants to hand over to the President. The debates will also give Republicans a platform to slam Obama’s strategy in combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria and to raise questions in public hearings about the state of the fight.
“It’s our goal to have a process that No. 1 determines the threat to our homeland and No. 2, this will be expansively looked at, what is the President’s strategy, especially in Syria,” Corker said. “There’s a lot of skepticism about the administration’s commitment to dealing with ISIS or Daesh or ISIL or whatever you want to call them. That creates a lot of concern.”