It's been over two months since the United States started launching airstrikes against Islamic State targets, and the preliminary results aren't encouraging. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the military offensive "has gotten off to a rocky start, with even the Syrian rebel groups closest to the United States turning against it, U.S. ally Turkey refusing to contribute and the plight of a beleaguered Kurdish town exposing the limitations of the strategy."
These might ordinarily be the sort of developments that would warrant scrutiny from Congress. Is the U.S. policy effective? Is there a smarter approach? What can the public expect in the way of results in the short- and long-term future?
But that scrutiny, at least for now, is nonexistent. Congress gave itself another 54-day vacation, and members have never authorized the military campaign that's currently underway -- a detail that most lawmakers seem to find irrelevant. Maybe Congress will have a debate during the lame-duck session in November, but as far as the House GOP leadership is concerned, it can wait.
To their credit, a small group of lawmakers has said Congress should promptly return to session in order to meet its constitutional obligations. Indeed, at a Senate debate in Iowa over the weekend, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) argued, "I think Congress should go back into session and have a broader and longer conversation about the nature of our involvement" in the Middle East.
Joni Ernst's (R) response was amazing, even by Joni Ernst standards:
"Yes, we knew this threat was there months and months and months ago and this decision could have been made earlier this year so there's no sense in calling Congress back now when this decision could have been made several months ago."
The quote comes by way of a Democratic group that recorded the debate.
It's the sort of comment that raises serious questions about Ernst's basic competence as someone seeking an important federal office. If the right-wing state lawmaker had said she's confident President Obama already has the legal authority he needs, so Congress does not need to hold a debate or a vote, there would at least be a degree of substantive consistency to the position.
But Ernst is making a very different argument. The far-right Iowan believes "there's no sense" in having lawmakers meet their obligations under the Constitution now, because they could have met their obligations months ago and didn't.
Can anyone explain what in the world Ernst is talking about? Since when is it sensible for a Senate candidate to argue in effect, "We should have acted before so let's not act now"?
In the same debate, Ernst wouldn't say whether she wants to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency and then wouldn't say what she intended to do for those who'd lose health care coverage if she successfully destroyed the Affordable Care Act.
It was a reminder about the curious standards of the political world in 2014. Last week, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) struggled to dodge a straightforward question about whom she voted for in the 2012 presidential election. There's no denying it was a clumsy moment for the U.S. Senate candidate, and the media's reaction was brutal, with some going so far as to describe the 30 seconds as "disqualifying."
And yet, for much of the year, we've seen Republican candidates clumsily refuse to answer equally straightforward questions about Medicaid expansion, global warming, Personhood, the minimum wage, and repealing "Obamacare." In the case of Arkansas' Tom Cotton, we've even seen one Senate candidate get caught flat-out lying.
Ernst, meanwhile, won't even say whether she wants to scrap the EPA. Why is it "disqualifying" when one candidate awkwardly dodges a question that has nothing to do with public policy, but other candidates face minimal scrutiny for dissembling in response to substantive questions?