President Obama wants to expand the war against ISIS, and doing so could be one of the few actions that won't trigger a fight with congressional Republicans in the final years of his term.
Obama sent a letter Monday to House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, requesting $5.6 billion to fund the war against ISIS. This move followed announcements last week that the number of troops in Iraq would double from 1,500 to 3,000 and that he plans to seek congressional approval for the ongoing fight against ISIS forces.
While a wave of Republican victories on Nov. 4 means that Congress could threaten much of Obama’s agenda for the next two years, Republican leaders support the fight against ISIS and some of the most hawkish members of Congress have criticized the White House for not doing enough.
Now that the midterm elections are over, members of both parties can vote on authorizing the use of military force to fight ISIS without endangering their reelection prospects. Boehner said Friday that Republicans would work with Obama to craft a military authorization, but that they would wait to vote on such a plan until next year.
On CBS’ "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Obama insisted that despite expanding the number of troops, the U.S. is not going to be involved in combat operations on the ground. Instead, the mission of the soldiers is still only to provide “proper training and equipment” to Iraqi forces while the U.S. and its coalition partners conduct air strikes. The White House could send even more troops to the region since it has not set a limit on the number of troops that could eventually go.
The increase in troops and request for more money did not come as a surprise. Since Obama announced in August that the U.S. would launch strikes in Iraq, he has emphasized that there is no timeline for the fight. Strikes have since expanded to Syria; Obama has said repeatedly that operations would continue until some future point when the “degrade and ultimately destroy” mission is deemed complete. While additional troops are part of "a new phase" in the fight, Obama said, their mission is still not a fighting one.
"What hasn't changed is our troops are not going to be engaged in combat," the president emphasized.
At a press conference last week, Obama said he plans to work with Congress to get approval for an ongoing fight. When he launched strikes without seeking their approval, the White House defended the president's ability to do so without Congress’ input.
At least one potential 2016 candidate is attacking Obama for acting without support from the legislative branch. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said Monday in a piece for The Daily Beast that Obama’s war against ISIS is “illegal” and the rationale for launching strikes without first going to Congress is unconstitutional. He also urged his colleagues in the House and Senate to take advantage of their newly won majority in Congress to either approve or stop the war against ISIS.
“Taking military action against ISIS is justified. The president acting without Congress is not,” Paul said.
Many Democrats have also been critical of the Obama’s actions in Iraq and Syria, although it has focused more on his decision to act without Congress than on his decision to return to the Middle East. In September, 85 House Democrats voted against a proposal to arm Syrian rebel groups to fight ISIS, and Rep. Adam Schiff of California spoke out against Boehner’s plan to wait until the next Congressional session.
“Congress should never have recessed prior to the elections while a new war was getting underway, and it must not compound this abdication of its Constitutional duty by failing to take up a war authorization during the lame duck session,” Schiff said in a statement.