President Obama will deliver a prime-time address tomorrow night from the White House, speaking to the nation about “the threat posed by ISIL” and presenting “the United States’ strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying the terrorist group.”
It’s part of an ongoing, multi-faceted campaign, which includes airstrikes in Iraq, international coalition building, detailed briefings for members of both the House and Senate, and as of tomorrow, a rare national address from the president.
But while Obama and his team keep quite busy preparing for the next phase of a national-security mission in the Middle East, it’s hard not to notice that Congress isn’t exactly busy. Will lawmakers make any effort to do their duty and engage in a real debate about U.S. foreign policy?
Democratic leaders in the Senate and Republican leaders in the House want to avoid a public vote to authorize force, fearing the unknown political consequences eight weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 4.”A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,’ ” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. ”It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”
Though Kingston’s candor is appreciated, this is still a pretty remarkable thing for a member of Congress to say out loud and on the record.
The quote offers a peek behind the curtain – quite a few members of Congress are content to simply complain from the sidelines, constitutional obligations notwithstanding.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate on Monday introduced separate bills authorizing military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Republican Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.) offered the bills…. The bills are the first congressional action taken on authorizing the president’s use of force against ISIS since lawmakers returned from a five-week recess on Monday.
Now that the measures have been introduced, we can start keeping track of co-sponsors and the legislative process. Nelson’s senator resolution, for example, is S.J.Res.42. (Soon after, Republican Sen. James Inhofe unveiled a similar measure on the same issue, which would do largely the same thing, and it’s S.J.Res.43.)
In the House, Wolf’s resolution is H.R.5415. (Republican Darrell Issa unveiled his own related version yesterday, H.J.Res.123).
In case it’s not obvious, the language of the resolutions matters a great deal. We’re not just talking about measures that would, if approved, authorize the use of force. The scope, duration, and targets of the mission would have a direct impact on the policy.
So let’s revisit our discussion from last week. Nelson’s proposal is pretty straight forward: Obama would have the legal authority to use force against ISIS targets in Syria. The resolution would prohibit the use of ground troops without additional congressional approval and the mission would have a time limit.
Wolf’s resolution in the House is almost comically expansive, authorizing the use of force against a variety of terrorist groups – not just ISIS – practically anywhere on the planet. Indeed, the language of the resolution is online (pdf) and it offers the president counter-terrorism powers without geographic limits, without time constraints, and with no meaningful constraints on terrorist targets.
It’s effectively a “Battlefield: Earth” policy. Hayes Brown added, in reference to Wolf’s resolution, “The rise of militants around the world has got politicians in Congress nervous and looking for a solution, with one House member proposing the U.S. declare war on all of them, infinitely, and with no limitations.”
Watch this space – and keep an eye on our ongoing whip count.