Some Lawmakers Call for Strengthening Obama's Hand Against ISIS

Some members of Congress want to give the president permission to fight ISIS.

November 10, 2015, 3:51 PM

— -- Some members of Congress are calling for the United States and some of its allies to change the way they are waging war against ISIS.

A bipartisan slate of senators and representatives want Congress to pass an updated authorization for President Obama to conduct the war against ISIS in light of his decision to send fifty special operations ground troops to Syria.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) brought up their draft Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which they originally proposed as an amendment in June, during a business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday.

This measure would define the conflict as one to protect American lives and provide military support to regional partners in their fight against ISIS. It would also repeal a 2002 authorization of the Iraq war, which the White House has used as the legal basis for its airstrikes against ISIS. The administration has also cited a 2001 AUMF that authorized use of military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but the Kaine/Flake amendment does not repeal that measure.

The senators argue that Congress’s passage of an AUMF represents the fulfillment of its Constitutional duty under Article I to “declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.”

During the committee meeting, Kaine also presented a letter, signed by 35 House Democrats and Republicans, urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to take up an AUMF vote in the House.

“Given the recent announcement by President Obama of a deepening entanglement in Syria and Iraq, it is critical that the House schedule and debate an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) as quickly as possible,” the letter reads in part.

Kaine and Flake said the impetus for renewing their AUMF call was the president’s decision to send ground troops to fight in the region.

“Once the president decides to go on an offensive war, whether he wants to do it or not without Congressional involvement, Congress has to be involved,” Kaine told reporters after the meeting.

“We shouldn’t rely on the executive branch to protect the prerogatives of the legislative branch,” Flake added.

But after a classified meeting with Brett McGurk, the administration’s top anti-ISIS envoy, it was clear that the administration is standing by its earlier assertions that it has the legal authority to continue this conflict under AUMFs passed during the George W. Bush administration.

“They believe they have all the authorities that they need,” Committee Chairman Bob Corker said as he left the McGurk briefing, referring to previous statements made by White House officials in unclassified settings.

The leaders of both Senate Democrats and Republicans also expressed their reluctance to pursue an updated AUMF for the war against ISIS.

"It's clear the president does not have a strategy in place, so it would be hard to figure out how to authorize a non-strategy. He must feel like he has the authority under existing resolutions that we have passed to do what he was doing," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid was more succinct.

"I don't believe in AUMFs," he said.

Corker and the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin (D-Md), also suggested that the downing of a Russian jet, for which an Egyptian branch of ISIS is claiming credit, should propel Russia to step up its engagement against ISIS.

Referring to international talks about Syria going on now in Vienna, Corker said he hoped the discussion would focus on getting Russia more involved against ISIS, instead of its current strategy of attacking all enemies of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whom the United States wants to leave office.

“We hope that they would help us in our battle against ISIS -– they are in fact involved in this,” Cardin added.

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