In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama talked about the U.S. military offensive against Islamic State militants, and he urged Congress to act. “This effort will take time; it will require focus; but we will succeed,” Obama said. “And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority.”
The comments garnered applause from the assembled lawmakers, but as Kate Nocera reported yesterday, the next step – by some measures, the first step – apparently remains a problem.
President Obama called on Congress to approve “a resolution to authorize the use of force against” ISIS in his State of the Union address – but what that will look like or even who will write the new authorization remains a mystery to most lawmakers. […]Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, told BuzzFeed News that the AUMF mention left him “totally confused.”“The president needs to define what he means by ‘defeat’ … He has to lay out what he needs to accomplish defeat and then he has to lay out the strategy and send us some language,” Johnson said. “We need some leadership out of the commander-in-chief and he’s provided none.”
Hmm. The president launched airstrikes against ISIS targets way back in August, and Congress did nothing. The president assembled an international coalition, and Congress gave itself some additional time off. The president asked for lawmakers to authorize the mission in November, and Congress again did nothing.
I generally find Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) arguments confusing, but in this scenario, who exactly is refusing to provide leadership?
The BuzzFeed piece went on to say, “Some Republicans were cautiously optimistic about the possibility of getting an AUMF done this Congress.”
This Congress? The U.S. military strikes in Iraq and Syria began in August 2014. Republicans are “optimistic about the possibility” of Congress meeting its constitutional obligations by December 2016?
The biggest hurdle is also the strangest: the White House wants Congress to write a resolution authorizing the use of force, while Congress wants the White House to do it. Neither has gone first, and neither wants to, so nothing has happened.
Well, “nothing” may be overstating matters. Plenty has happened – the U.S. military has launched an aggressive campaign against ISIS targets and Republicans have launched a lot of complaints about the president not writing legislation for the legislative branch.
The GOP’s main argument is that the White House is “traditionally” responsible for getting the ball rolling, writing Congress’ bill for Congress. But as we’ve discussed before, the notion that lawmakers should do no work until the president sends over instructions, because this is “typically” how the process works, is itself dubious.
When President Clinton used military force in Kosovo, for example, congressional Republicans voted on a resolution that they, not the White House, wrote. The same is true when President Obama launched strikes in Libya. In fairness, these were not measures authorizing force, per se, but they were lawmakers weighing in on the scope of a U.S. military operation by voting on a resolution lawmakers authored.
What’s more, when President Reagan deployed U.S. troops to Lebanon, the White House accepted a congressional resolution, but it came from lawmakers, not the West Wing.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) recently said about Congress’ duties, “We’re not a suitor that has to wait to be asked to dance.” That’s exactly right. Even if lawmakers “typically” waited for a president to tell them what to do, that’s not how the American system is supposed to work, and upon further inspection, that’s not exactly how the process has “typically” worked, anyway.
As for what’s next, Roll Call reported overnight that senior administration officials expect to see a “convoluted” process in the coming months in which the White House sends congress draft AUMF language, “but only after backchannel consultation with House and Senate leaders to understand just how much military assertiveness lawmakers are ready to permit.”
Watch this space.