In his Oval Office address last week, President Obama challenged Congress to step up and do real work countering ISIS. In fact, he made a pretty straightforward case.
“[I]f Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists,” Obama said. “For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.”
And for a few days, it looked like lawmakers might, at long last, start to take their responsibilities seriously. A small, bipartisan group of members endorsed talks to approve an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) – authorizing a military offensive that was launched nearly a year and a half ago – and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) circulated new draft language. The Washington Post reported, “A flurry of new proposals to authorize military force against the Islamic State are breathing new life into a longtime debate on Capitol Hill.”
But on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threw cold water on the very idea of congressional action. Roll Call reported:
“I don’t think so,” the Kentucky Republican told Roll Call when asked about the prospects for a Senate debate on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force in the first half of 2016.McConnell said during an interview Friday afternoon in his Capitol office that with a presidential election less than a year away, he did not want to act to constrain the next commander in chief – regardless of who might take office.
“I would not want to saddle the next president with a prescriptive AUMF. We’re going to have a new president a year from now,” the GOP leader argued. “He or she may have a different view about the way to deal with ISIS and that part of the world. I don’t think we ought to be passing an AUMF as the president exits the stage when he already thinks he has the authority to do what he’s willing to do now.”
Just so we’re clear, McConnell was effectively ruling out authorizing a vote before the next presidential election – which is 11 months away – waiting to see what the next president wants after the the next Inauguration Day – which is 13 months away. In other words, as the Senate Majority Leader sees it, the U.S. military offensive began in August 2014, and Congress might consider authorizing the mission, maybe, in 2017.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has been as vocal as any member on Congress failing to do its duty, continues to voice his frustrations.
“The British Parliament, the French National Assembly, the German Bundesrat and even the Duma in Russia, for God’s sake, are having a debate and having a vote,” Kaine told the Washington Post. “The spotlight is getting bigger and bigger on congressional inaction and indifference.”
The Virginian added that Congress acted with incredible speed to block Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS violence from reaching American soil, but those same lawmakers can’t be bothered to legislate when it comes to the mission against ISIS.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon-commissioned study last week found that Congress “should pass a new authorization for the use of military force” in this case. For now, it appears congressional leaders don’t care.