White House Outlines Proposal for War Authorization Against ISIS

PHOTO: A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014.Reuters
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014.

Top White House officials briefed Senate Democrats Tuesday on what the administration is considering in its request to authorize the use of military force against ISIS, including prohibiting the use of "enduring" ground troops.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and White House counsel Neil Eggleston met with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill Tuesday in a closed luncheon to detail the administration's draft proposal. Several Democratic senators attending the luncheon today told ABC News the top White House officials described an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that would prohibit “enduring offensive ground operations” in the fight against ISIS.

The AUMF would last for three years and require the president to seek reauthorization when it expires. It would not place any geographic limitations on where military force could be used against ISIS, and it would repeal the 2002 AUMF that authorized the war in Iraq.

The meeting came hours after the White House announced U.S. aid worker Kayla Mueller died while being held hostage by ISIS.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid described the outline presented today as an “opening salvo” in discussions about an AUMF. Senators said the White House did not present any text formalizing their proposal.

The White House intends to present its proposal this week – as early, perhaps, as Wednesday. But the most robust Congressional war debate in more than a decade is likely to linger for weeks or months.

The opposition from the right and left is intense, and it raises the question of how this divided Congress will ever get behind a proposal. Several Democrats voiced concerns about the phrase “enduring offensive ground operations,” saying the phrase is vague and open-ended.

“I think there's gonna be a lot of us who are very worried about the open-ended nature of the AUMF. I have no doubt that President Obama is going to maintain his commitment to keep ground troops out of the Middle East, but my worry is that this version of the AUMF will allow for the next president to repeat the mistakes of the past,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, said. “For many of us it's going to be tough to swallow restriction on ground troops that doesn't seem to be much of a restriction at all.”

“There's really no precedent built up around, you know, the terminology that the administration is going to be using, thus leaving it up to the next president to decide for him or herself,” Murphy added.

“That’s a term that doesn’t have precedence in prior foreign policy and so it’s going to have to be defined, there’s going to have to be legislative history and discussion,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said. “It’s going to take some discussion to determine whether it’s the right term and I think there’s going to be dispute and discussion around here among various people on both sides of the aisle as to what the limitation should be, if any. I think there’s some people who feel there should not be any limitations.”

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, argued the proposal would tie the hands of the commander-in-chief, which he called “totally not acceptable.”

“It has never happened, it has never happened, it has never happened and never will as long as I'm able to breathe,” McCain said, fuming at the proposal he believes would place too strict of limits on the force the United States could use.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who opposed the Iraq invasion a decade ago, said today he is open to supporting a military campaign against the Islamic State. But he said the language of the AUMF was critical, with particular concern about preventing mission creep. He and others praised the three-year timeframe.

“It means it will apply to this president during the remainder of his term and to the succeeding president for one year,” Durbin said. “Whoever is elected president after Obama has to start thinking immediately about the renewal of the AUMF and discussing it with Congress.”

ABC News’ Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.