Where Do the 2016 Democrats Stand on the AUMF?

Senator Bernie Sanders is against it. No one else has much to say.

Ranking member Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, February 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Wednesday, after California Representative Adam Schiff and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine praised the White House for sending Congress an authorization of military force against the Islamic State, reporter Todd Zwillich asked the Democrats how many of their colleagues might worry about the political consequences. After all, one reason that President Hillary Clinton was not closing out her second term was that an Illinois senator exploited Iowa caucus-goers' anger at her vote to authorize the Iraq War.

"There are going to be members who don't want to vote on this," said Schiff. "These are among the most consequential decisions we make."

Kaine, who is often mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2016, didn't take a run at the question. And it is only partially related to the question Democrats had to ask in 2002. Combat operations are underway in Iraq and Syria; they can continue, with or without an AUMF, unless defunded or limited by Congress.

Of the Democrats considering a 2016 presidential bid, only one, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, is serving in Congress. On Wednesday, he announced that he would not support the AUMF as written:

The Islamic State is a brutal and dangerous terrorist organization which has murdered thousands of innocent men, women and children, including Americans. It must be defeated.

I voted against the war in Iraq because I feared very much the destabilizing impact it would have on the region. Today, after 13 years in Afghanistan and 12 years in Iraq, after the loss of almost 7,000 troops and the expenditure of trillions of dollars, I very much fear U.S. involvement in an expanding and never-ending quagmire in that region of the world.

I have supported U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and believe they are authorized under current law, and I support targeted U.S. military efforts to protect U.S. citizens.

It is my firm belief, however, that the war against ISIS will never be won unless nations in the Middle East step up their military efforts and take more responsibility for the security and stability of their region. The United States and other western powers should support our Middle East allies, but this war will never be won unless Muslim nations in the region lead that fight.

It is worth remembering that Saudi Arabia, for example, is a nation controlled by one of the wealthiest families in the world and has the fourth largest military budget of any nation. This is a war for the soul of Islam and the Muslim nations must become more heavily engaged. 

I oppose sending U.S. ground troops into combat in another bloody war in the Middle East. I therefore cannot support the resolution in its current form without clearer limitations on the role of U.S. combat troops.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who's moved more aggressively than any other Democrat in building an Iowa network, issued his AUMF thoughts on Facebook. They were less expansive, and less conclusive:

The new AUMF should address ISIS specifically, and mitigate any unintended consequences by including clear language on the use of ground troops and the length and terms of engagement.

That was sort of what the AUMF was written to do. And that, sadly, was all the Democrats looking at 2016 had to say. This was my question to former Virginia Senator Jim Webb's spokesman, Craig Crawford:

Does Sen. Webb have any reaction to the AUMF text presented by the WH? I've heard him talk a lot about the lack of a comprehensive foreign policy strategy. Limiting it just to this -- does he see a strategy here for Iraq? If he was in Congress would he support this version of the bill?

Crawford answered:

He talked a lot of ISIS etc. in the Meet the Press interview last fall, and discussed his views on intervention in his National Press Club speech.

Webb, said Crawford, did "not yet" have a response to the AUMF. Neither did Clinton, whose spokesman Nick Merrill said that "if we have anything on this will pass along." (Nothing came.) After Merrill said that, MoveOn, whose members endorsed Obama over Clinton in 2008, came out against the AUMF:

President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) is a recipe for endless–and costly–war. It does nothing to repeal the sweeping 2001 AUMF, which 14 years later, is still being used to justify ongoing military action.

Congress must not abdicate its responsibility to oversee U.S. war-making by giving the president a blank check to pursue multiple years of war, in Iraq, Syria, or any nation, against an open-ended array of possible targets. And it certainly must not allow the president to leave open the real possibility of deploying U.S. ground troops, as the proposed AUMF does.

MoveOn members call on members of Congress to reject the proposed AUMF — and will mobilize to ensure this message is heard.

MoveOn is currently engaged in a campaign to draft Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren into the race against Clinton. Warren's office did not respond when asked if she would support the White House's version of the AUMF.

UPDATE: Warren's office did give a statement to The Hill:

I am deeply concerned by the rise of ISIS, and I support a strong, coordinated response — but I also believe it is critical for those nations in the region that are most immediately affected by the rise of ISIS to play a leading role in this fight, and I do not want America to be dragged into another ground war in the Middle East.

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