Senators Broach Renewed Bid to Authorize Fighting Islamic State

Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questions witnesses during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Secretary of State John Kerry said the Obama administration's proposed authorization for the military campaign against Islamic State would let the U.S. "speak with a single powerful voice at this pivotal hour."

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he’ll try to bridge the differences that have prevented U.S. lawmakers from voting to authorize the war against Islamic State.

The commitment by Corker, a Tennessee Republican, came after the committee postponed a vote on a proposed measure on Tuesday. In a sign of potential bipartisan support, two committee members -- Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake -- introduced the measure as an amendment to a State Department policy bill.

“We’re trying to show there can be a bipartisan path forward,” Kaine said at a committee work session.

Last December, the committee, controlled by Democrats, approved a similar measure on a party-line vote, but it never reached the full Senate. Many Democratic lawmakers sought provisions constraining President Barack Obama from sending U.S. troops into combat against the terrorists that have seized swaths of Iraq and Syria, while many Republicans wanted language prodding him to do so.

The latest version would authorize military force against Islamic State fighters for three years while prohibiting “the use of significant United States ground troops in combat” except when needed to protect American lives from “imminent threats.”

Kaine withdrew the measure, postponing any action, after Corker agreed to meet privately with senators in an effort to work out compromise language.

“Obviously there are a lot of concerns expressed from a lot of different directions,” said Corker, who stopped short of promising a vote on the proposal. “We are going to have a meeting and discuss to see if there’s a way forward.”

Paul’s Opposition

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican presidential candidate, said he would oppose the measure because it sets no geographic limits on where U.S. forces could be used.

“Right now there are 60 different groups in 30 different countries that have pledged allegiance to ISIS,” Paul said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, said any new bill must be “very cautious about the authorization of ground troops.”

Several committee members said they welcomed the agreement to postpone action.

“The worst thing we could do is have a huge split in this committee, given what’s going on in the world right now,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.

White House Comment

The Obama administration has pushed for a new authorization, while maintaining that it already has legal authority under a 2001 measure to use force against al-Qaeda, from which Islamic State was an offshoot.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest criticized lawmakers on Tuesday for largely ignoring suggested authorization language the administration proposed last year at the behest of Congress.

The proposal by Kaine and Flake shows that “at least some members of Congress are willing to step up” to their responsibilities, he said. Without endorsing their proposal, Earnest said, Kaine and Flake “deserve credit.”

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