Obama Call for Military Force Bill Sees No Progress in Congress

Obama Vows U.S. Will Overcome Evolving Terror Threat
  • Congress hasn't acted since Obama sought authority in February
  • Republican McCarthy says president should offer a new plan

The day after President Barack Obama issued a fresh call for congressional authorization for the battle against Islamic State, some lawmakers leading the debate couldn’t agree on whether Obama has provided a valid plan or Congress should come up with one of its own.

It’s been 10 months since Obama submitted to Congress a draft authorization to use military force, asking them to give him specific power for the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Lacking new authority, the White House has said it’s relying on a 2001 authorization by Congress to fight al-Qaeda as the legal underpinnings for the campaign that began last year.

“War’s a big deal, and it deserves to be debated and voted on in the Congress. Quite frankly, it’s cowardly to avoid this issue," Representative James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who wants the House to debate a military force authorization, said Monday in an interview.

“Future presidents who want to use military force in far-flung places will point to this era for doing whatever they want to do” by using old authority, McGovern said.

Obama in February asked Congress to authorize the use of U.S. military force against Islamic State for three years and allow deployment of ground troops short of “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

At the time, a number of Republicans questioned why he wasn’t seeking broader authority. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate didn’t act on the president’s request or offer proposals of their own.

Start Over

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said Monday that Obama should start over with new authorization language rather than expecting Congress to take that step.

“I think the president needs to take a different approach to this,” McCarthy told reporters Monday. “I don’t even think that was a serious approach,” said McCarthy, referring to Obama’s proposal in February.

McGovern was among a number of Democrats who have called for narrower military authority than what Obama wants. On Monday he criticized Republican congressional leadership for criticizing the White House proposal yet not putting forward alternate language.

“Speaker Boehner and Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell seem content to do nothing,” McGovern said. “Maybe it’s convenient to not go on record supporting anything or opposing anything. It’s easier to sit on the sideline.”

Republican McCarthy, though, questioned whether Congress writing its own authorization would change the president’s direction.

‘Limit and Restrict’

“The one that he proposed to Congress would limit and restrict. That creates a problem,” McCarthy said, adding that he wants to see “a strategy to defeat.”

Republicans criticized Obama’s Sunday prime-time address following last week’s shooting rampage by a radicalized Muslim couple in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor Monday that the speech had been a “missed opportunity.”

"Unfortunately the American people did not hear of a strategy or a plan to defeat and destroy” Islamic State, McConnell said. “Instead they heard a restatement of a military campaign.”

McConnell said lawmakers need to know what authority Obama requires to defeat encrypted online communications, as well as what force structure and funding U.S. commanders need to "rebuild our conventional capabilities so we can continue and expand this fight while facing other global threats."

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