Bipartisan angst over Obama’s war powers
Congress awaits promised action
President Obama promised a new war debate, but two weeks after making that postelection vow he has yet to send over legislation or even to begin negotiating with Congress on rewriting an authorization to allow him to go after the Islamic State terrorism group that he has committed thousands of U.S. troops to combat in Iraq.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they are waiting on the president to make the first move.
“The process should come from him. He’s the commander in chief,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “If he feels he needs this authority, he wants this authority, then he should be the leader. He should write down what he’s looking for in terms of authority and let us debate it.”
Even Democrats aren’t happy that the president has been hands-off in the debate. Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the White House won’t send witnesses to Capitol Hill to discuss what the military needs in an authorization for use of military force, also called an AUMF.
“I have always felt that we should be continuing … on an AUMF, but it’s a little difficult when the administration doesn’t produce any witnesses,” he said. “So either they want an AUMF or they don’t.”
Mr. Obama invited the debate the day after his party suffered bruising election defeats. In a press conference, he said the nature of the enemy has changed since Congress authorized the battle against al Qaeda in 2001 and the ouster of Saddam Hussein from Iraq in 2002.
The president called for “a process of listening to members of Congress, as well as us presenting what we think needs to be the set of authorities that we have.”
He said the process would begin immediately, though a final resolution “may carry over into the next Congress.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the administration and lawmakers are having those talks.
“The administration continues to have conversations with members of both parties regarding an AUMF to suit the current fight and our current strategy against ISIL,” she said.
But those on Capitol Hill said they haven’t seen enough evidence.
Mr. Graham said he thinks the president doesn’t want to put his needs for the war in writing because it may anger some of his far-left supporters.
“I think he doesn’t want to make that hard decision. He doesn’t want to write down on a piece of paper what he would like Congress to do because he’s afraid of the left,” he said. “I’m not going to do anything until he leads on this.”
When the president ordered airstrikes against Islamic State fighters this year, he said he had the authority to do so under congressional actions in 2001 and 2002 that give him power to fight al Qaeda or associated groups and wage war in Iraq. The two authorizations have not expired, and Congress has not repealed them.
Senators have been frustrated with the administration for a muddled strategy. More than a year after the president delivered a major anti-terrorism speech calling for the authorizations to be rewritten, administration officials angered lawmakers at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing in May by offering no suggestions for changes.
Sen. Lindsey Graham insists war authority legislation should be laid out by the president, not Congress. “The process should come from him. He’s the commander in chief,” he said.