Just last week, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unusually blunt while chiding Congress for failing to authorize the U.S. military offensive against ISIS. Lawmakers, Earnest said, have “been AWOL.”
“They haven’t been willing to stand up and do their job. Their job doesn’t require putting themselves at great personal risk. Their job doesn’t require making difficult strategic decisions. Their job requires holding some congressional hearings, writing legislation, and casting a vote. Their job requires basically only fulfilling the bare minimum.“And when it comes to our national security and something as important as this, something that they say is so critically important to our country, it’s time for them to not just pay lip service, but to actually follow through with some action.”
Action, however, is the one thing the Republican-led Congress won’t consider. At The Atlantic last week, Peter Beinart explained, “It is incredible. On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidates endlessly slam Obama’s lack of a strategy against ISIS. And yet given the opportunity to help craft such a strategy, and back it up with an authorization for war, Republican leaders in Congress refuse. It’s a perfect illustration of the absurdity of GOP foreign policy today.”
Nearly 10 months after President Obama launched the military offensive against ISIS targets, Congress hasn’t so much as held a debate about America’s policy, but this week, a House committee took a very modest step in the right direction. The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery published this report, which is equal parts depressing and amusing:
During a House Appropriations Committee hearing, lawmakers added language to the 2016 defense spending bill stating that “Congress has a constitutional duty to debate and determine whether or not to authorize the use of military force” against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL or ISIS.The amendment, offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), has no binding effect. It does nothing to force a congressional debate on the duration, costs or endgame of the war. It simply states that it is Congress’ responsibility to have that debate and then vote to authorize, or not to authorize, war.
Right. So, the Obama administration launched airstrikes in August 2014. The president called on Congress to authorize the mission in December 2014. Obama devoted part of his State of the Union address to this in January 2015. The White House even sent draft legislative language to Capitol Hill in February 2015.
And in June 2015, a committee was willing to endorse a non-binding measure that said Congress really should, someday, do something to meet its constitutional obligations.
That’s it. That’s as far as lawmakers have been willing to go.
Indeed, much the committee didn’t even want to even go this far. When Barbara Lee urged members to support her proposal, the committee chairman held a voice vote and deemed it defeated. When Lee insisted on a roll call, it passed 29 to 22, overcoming Republican opposition. (All 22 “no” votes came from GOP members.)
In other words, nearly half the committee wasn’t even willing to go this far.
It’s not a done deal – Lee’s amendment may not survive a fight on the House floor – but this speaks volumes about the seriousness with which some members take their responsibilities.