Sen. Rand Paul scored a victory Thursday in forcing an end-of-session debate on authorizing force against Islamic State militants.
The Kentucky Republican, and potential 2016 presidential candidate, used a legislative gambit to press the issue — which the Obama administration has been reluctant to specifically engage with Congress on. Paul first tried to attach a Declaration of War against the terror group also known as ISIS or ISIL to an unrelated water bill at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Paul agreed to refrain from offering his amendment after the panel scheduled a Monday hearing on the issue, where Secretary of State John Kerry may testify. The hearing will be followed by a classified briefing, with a markup and vote on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force on Wednesday.
"I think the most important responsibility of a legislator is to vote yay or nay on whether or not we are sending our young men and women to war and I think we have been derelict in that duty. ... The president, I think in his arrogance has assumed he doesn’t even need to ask," Paul said when leaving the markup meeting. "Today we forced the issue and next week we’ve been promised a hearing on this as well as a vote on this and I am satisfied with that."
Outgoing Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who also has been pushing for a new AUMF, was expected to offer his own authorization as a substitute to the Paul war declaration amendment. But with Paul standing down, Menendez too held back.
Paul had the procedural backing of panel member Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who has long advocated for adopting a new use-of-force resolution. Kaine said was eager to have the debate, but added that he does not agree with Paul about formally declaring war against a non-state actor such as ISIS.
"I talked to Sen. Paul last week about his intention to file his amendment. I said 'Go for it, that would be great.' We need to be banging the drum about making this happen. We have looked at every venue to try to force a hearing on this, to force the administration to come up and justify their position and do an AUMF," the Virginia Democrat told CQ Roll Call. "We've looked at the [defense authorization]. We've looked at the likely ... omnibus that will come next week."
"This water bill was an unwieldy vehicle, but when it became apparent that it might move in the Foreign Relations Committee, we filed a series of amendments to it," Kaine said. "The chair was not initially thrilled, but as the chair thought about it, Sen. Menendez did a really good job of understanding that it was important we have this before we adjourn, and he worked out this compromise today."
Kaine said he thought the administration should have sent up a draft AUMF months ago, in part echoing past criticism from Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John McCain of Arizona.
Corker, the expected Foreign Relations chairman in the new GOP-led Senate next year, said the committee took the best course of action given the circumstances with the panel set to vote on what could be a partisan proposal.
"I am hoping that there can be some alterations because I think the way it's now crafted ... it could end up being a partisan vote," Corker said. "I just don’t think that’s not best for our country."
Corker said one possibility he has suggested is an AUMF that authorizes current operations for a short period of time and demands the administration come back with their strategy.
"We're going to do the best we can next week," Corker said.
Of course, the exercise is likely for naught, because as Corker said and everyone around the Capitol knows, the AUMF is not likely going to get considered by the full Senate. That's because next week is expected to be the last week of the lame duck, and the lion's share of the chamber's time will be consumed with extending a raft of tax breaks, funding the government and passing a defense authorization bill.
Corker said a large part of the reason the AUMF debate boiled over Thursday was a desire from members to go on the record before the holiday break against any possibility of putting boots on the ground. He said he also believes that passing an AUMF without much White House input is of questionable value.
"I think they still are trying to figure out a way forward," Corker said. "Typically when you authorize a use of military force you want to understand what the way forward is. And since we don't have it I just find it a little rushed to want to authorize something."
Corker said the legislative proposal itself might be coming early next year.
"My sense is the administration sometime during the month of January was going to be ready to offer potentially an AUMF," he said.
Kaine was hopeful the administration would partake fully in next week's process.
"I do have an expectation that [the Obama administration is] going to send up good witnesses," Kaine said.
"Will they forward a draft resolution? I don't know. They should have before now, and I'm really not sure why they haven't. They're really more likely to get an authorization that's to their liking if they tell us what they thing the mission should be," Kaine said.
"Whether or not they do their Article II duty, we're going to do our Article I duty," Kaine said. "We do know that we'll have meaningful participation in terms of witnesses and I'm sure that they'll weigh in on the proposals that are already on the table with respect to the authorization."
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