Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez said Wednesday that President Barack Obama's new plan to "destroy" ISIS will eventually require congressional authorization, and promised his committee will begin drafting one.
Menendez's statement came as vulnerable Democrats generally praised the president's decision to take on ISIS but split over pieces of his strategy — while liberals demanded Congress vote to authorize the war.
The New Jersey Democrat said he believes the president has authority for a short-term conflict on his own, but "a prolonged military campaign will require a congressionally-approved Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Following the upcoming series of hearings and briefings, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin drafting a tailored AUMF to provide the President with the additional authority required by the War Powers Resolution to continue operations to thwart the ISIL threat," Menendez said.
The administration does not oppose a new AUMF, but a senior administration official asserted earlier Wednesday that the 2001 authorization to use force against al-Qaida and its affiliates is all the authority the president needs.
Not everyone agrees. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is demanding Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, bring a use of force authorization to the floor before Congress goes home — something Boehner has not committed to doing.
Vulnerable Senate Democrats facing voters this fall had varying reactions.
Mark Begich of Alaska is against the president's call. "I oppose the President’s plan to arm Syrian rebels at this time. I am gravely concerned by reports of ISIS seizing and utilizing U.S. weapons intended for those fighting against the Syrian regime, and we must have greater assurance that we aren't arming extremists," he said.
But Kay Hagan of North Carolina offered full-throated support for arming the rebels, noting she had pressed Obama to do just that.
"The President and our military leadership have now developed a plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels and defeat ISIS with a sustained campaign of airstrikes. As long ago as the spring of last year, I pressed the Administration to arm and empower moderate Syrian rebels and I am glad that effort will be accelerated," she said.
Others were more nuanced. Mark Udall of Colorado backed targeting of ISIS, but drew the line at anything beyond airstrikes.
"I believe any expanded U.S. military role beyond airstrikes in the fight against ISIL in Iraq must be approved by Congress. The American people must be assured that we are not pursuing another open-ended conflict in the Middle East, and I will not give this president — or any other president — a blank check to begin another land war in Iraq," he said.
Republican leaders generally were hawkish on the president's remarks — chiding the president for not acting earlier and potentially for not waging an even broader campaign.
Boehner called for an "all-out effort to destroy an enemy that has declared a holy war against America."
And House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Congress was prepared to work with the president.
"A President who has made ending the war on terrorism the central focus of his foreign policy must now make winning it a priority," he said.
Several Republicans said the president should have asked Congress to vote to authorize the use of force.
"I believe the president is exercising poor judgment by not explicitly seeking an authorization from Congress where consensus can be reached around a substantive plan of action and support can be built for an operation that he has described will take several years," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
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