President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East back in August 2014, and since that time, the United States has conducted over 7,000 strikes, more than triple the rest of the world combined. In response, congressional Republicans have complained bitterly about the White House’s passivity towards ISIS, largely ignoring what’s actually happened.
At the same time, however, GOP lawmakers have been surprisingly reluctant to do any actual work of their own. Month after month, the president has urged Congress to authorize the mission, but most of Obama’s critics on Capitol Hill have been unwilling to move past the carping phase.
Indeed, as recently as two weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked if his chamber would ever get around to tackling an AUMF for the current mission. The Kentucky Republican demurred.
Given all of this, yesterday’s developments came as something of a surprise. The New York Times reported:
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, has set the stage for debate on a bill that would give President Obama broad authority to use military force against the Islamic State.Mr. McConnell has generally opposed the idea of revisiting the president’s authority for military operations in the Middle East…. But aides to Mr. McConnell said the new bill, sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, was sufficiently broad and would provide a new platform for showcasing what Republicans view as Mr. Obama’s deep failings in combating the Islamic State.
At face value, this would seem to offer at least some encouragement to those eager to see Congress do its duty.
The trouble, however, is what Graham and his allies have in mind.
The reason Congress has failed to do any work at all on this issue is less related to lawmakers’ laziness and more the result of a deep, substantive disagreement. Both parties say they’re willing to move forward on an authorization to use military force, but Democrats want a resolution that includes limits and establishes meaningful parameters for the mission, while Republicans want an open-ended policy.
And what does the new Senate GOP plan have in mind? According to a National Journal report, “The AUMF put forward by McConnell would not restrict the president’s use of ground troops, nor have any limits related to time or geography.”
Or put another way, the lawmakers who’ve spent years complaining about expansive powers in the hands of the president are now eyeing a force resolution that would allow Obama – and his successor(s) – to launch a war anywhere, for any amount of time, while Congress waits on the sidelines for occasional updates.
Roll Call’s report accurately described the proposal as a “draft resolution for a war without limits.” Lindsey Graham himself conceded yesterday that he’s prepared to give the executive branch “the ability to go after ISIS without limitation to geography, time and means.”
It’s exactly the kind of AUMF that congressional Democrats have said they cannot support. That said, if Senate Republicans are serious about Graham’s draft, it’s not clear if Dems would be able to block it.
McConnell has reportedly fast-tracked the resolution – allowing it to skip the committee process – but when the measure might reach the Senate floor is unclear.