President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in August 2014. He publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission in December 2014. He used part of his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act in January 2015. At Congress’ insistence, the White House even sent draft legislative language to Capitol Hill in February 2015.
Congress’ Republican majority, however, hasn’t actually done any real work on the issue, and according to the House Majority Leader’s comments yesterday, that’s not going to change.
President Obama’s request to use military force against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorists is dead in the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared on Monday.The California Republican told reporters Obama’s request for an authorization of use of military force, or AUMF, could not attain a simple 218-vote majority in the lower chamber.
According to Roll Call’s report, McCarthy specifically told reporters, in reference to the White House’s draft resolution, “I do not think there is [sic] 218 votes for what the president sent up…. I usually don’t bring bills up unless I think they can pass “
The California Republican did suggest the Armed Services Committee might consider the issue, but the Roll Call report added, “[H]e didn’t commit to the AUMF getting on the floor for a vote – particularly if it’s just a doomed exercise…. McCarthy signaled that the draft might never get a vote.” The legislative branch could consider writing it own legislative draft, but apparently, that idea isn’t under consideration, either.
As we discussed last week, Congress’ intention to do nothing does not mean that the mission against ISIS must cease. On the contrary, Obama continues to launch airstrikes on ISIS targets and help lead an international coalition. He’s just doing so without any real limits or new legal authorization (the administration is relying on the post-9/11 AUMF as its legal basis). Lawmakers have effectively told the administration, “Go ahead and wage war. We’re staying out of it.”
But, in the same press event, McCarthy also told reporters yesterday that he intends to move as quickly as possible on legislation empowering Congress to intervene on international nuclear talks with Iran.
Appreciating the contradiction at the heart of these two positions is critical. Indeed, the point isn’t lost on the White House.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest mocked lawmakers for wanting a say in the ultimate outcome of nuclear negotiations with Iran while simultaneously pushing to give Obama more power to go to war against the Islamic State group.“We see Congress eager to weigh in and advocate for the role that they should have that would prevent diplomacy, while at the same time, you hear members of Congress who are unwilling to take any steps that would constrain the president’s ability to wage war,” Earnest said during Monday’s press briefing. “It seems to me they might have their priorities a little backwards.”
“A little” is a generous way to put it.
It gets back to the “double-standard” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told Greg Sargent about last week: “Congress wants to be all over [the president’s] diplomatic engagement, while appearing eager at times to stand aside when he intervenes militarily.”
As we talked about at the time, if lawmakers want to take an institutional stand in support of Congress’ legitimate role in matters of national security, I’m all for it. The system is designed to have checks and balances for a reason, and if the legislative branch wants to share the burden of responsibility on matters of life and death, it’d be a welcome development.
But it’s the fickle selectivity that’s the problem. Congress is eager to get involved to block diplomacy, and lawmakers are equally eager to look away when it’s time to authorize an ongoing military offensive abroad.
Or put another way, the GOP-led House and Senate don’t care when Obama launches a war, but they care a great deal when Obama tries to prevent a war.