It’s been nine months since President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East. It’s been five months since the president publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission. It’s been four months since Obama used his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act. It’s been three months since the White House, at Congress’ insistence, provided draft legislative language to lawmakers.
But as The Hill reported this afternoon, House Republicans – who support the administration’s military offensive – still aren’t prepared to do any actual work.
President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.“The president’s request for Authorization of Use of Military Force calls for less authority than he has today. Given the fight that we’re in, it’s irresponsible,” Boehner told reporters after huddling with his rank-and-file members. Boehner said the president should withdraw the AUMF and “start over.”
It’s important to understand the nuances of Boehner’s whining on this issue. For quite a while, the Speaker said the legislative branch wouldn’t even try to authorize the war unless the executive branch did lawmakers’ work for them – Congress simply would not write its own bill, Boehner said, so it was up to the president to do the legislative work for the legislators.
Obama eventually agreed to write a bill for those whose job it is to write bills, only to discover that Congress doesn’t like his bill. The sensible, mature next move seems fairly obvious: if lawmakers don’t like the resolution the White House wrote, Congress can try writing its own version, agreed upon by lawmakers, and then voted on by lawmakers.
As of this morning, however, Boehner says he doesn’t want to. He wants the president to imagine what might make Republicans happy, then write another draft, at which point GOP leaders will let the West Wing know whether or not Congress is satisfied. If Boehner disapproves, presumably it’d be up to Obama to come up with a third.
This is quickly becoming a national embarrassment.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the war, in effect, started nine months ago. Congress has a constitutional obligation to authorize the mission, but instead we have a House Speaker who keeps expecting everyone else to work except him.
I can appreciate the fact that this is not simply a matter of laziness. There are, as we’ve discussed before, significant policy disagreements – between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate – that are tough to resolve. Some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough. Working out a resolution would be hard.
But here’s the fact that Boehner and his cohorts don’t seem to understand: it’s supposed to be hard. When lawmakers authorize the nation to launch a military offensive abroad, it’s difficult by design.
The Speaker, however, hopes to pass the buck, suggesting somehow it’s the White House’s job to write bills for Congress, and if Congress doesn’t like the president’s version, then Capitol Hill will just ignore the issue altogether. In effect, Boehner’s argument is that an ongoing war can just continue – indefinitely – no matter the cost or scope of the mission, and federal lawmakers are prepared to do literally no work whatsoever.
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said today, “We may go down in history as the Congress that largely gave up its role in the war-making process.”
The irony, of course, is extraordinary. For years, Boehner and other GOP leaders have complained that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant, hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and amassing excessive power in the executive. And yet, here we are, with the president pushing Congress to authorize a war that’s already started, and a Speaker content to sit on his hands.
Making matters worse, the more Obama tries to find a peaceful solution with Iran, the more Congress tries to intervene to derail the administration’s efforts. The more Obama wages war against ISIS, the less work Congress is inclined to do.
“It matters a great deal to the institution of the Congress what we do because future presidents are going to look back at this and they’re going to say ‘We can make war without a congressional vote,’” Schiff added. “It will have deep impact on our institutional role and our ability to serve as a meaningful check and balance on presidents’ ability to make war.”
Finally, evidence of Boehner’s legacy comes into focus.