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Mitch McConnell: New War Authorization Not Happening Anytime Soon

McConnell doesn't seem inclined to bring an AUMF to the floor.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed President Barack Obama's call for new authority to use force to combat the Islamic State.  

"I don't think so," the Kentucky Republican told Roll Call when asked about the prospects for a Senate debate on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force in the first half of 2016.  

McConnell said during an interview Friday afternoon in his Capitol office that with a presidential election less than a year away, he did not want to act to constrain the next commander in chief — regardless of who might take office.  

McConnell Demurs on ISIS AUMF

"The president obviously feels he has the authority now to do what he's doing," McConnell said. "And the discussions with Democrats on AUMF make it clear that the only kind of AUMF they would support is one that would include such micromanagement of the military exercise as how many troops you could have, how long they could stay, and all of this.  

"I would not want to saddle the next president with a prescriptive AUMF. We're going to have a new president a year from now," McConnell continued. "He or she may have a different view about the way to deal with ISIS and that part of the world. I don't think we ought to be passing an AUMF as the president exits the stage when he already thinks he has the authority to do what he's willing to do now."  

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has announced plans for a virtually unlimited use of force resolution, but other proposals have included significant restrictions on geography and the use of ground combat forces against the terror group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.  

Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia have been vocal in calling for a debate on a use of force resolution, but their cries have largely fallen on deaf ears.  

"In June, Senator Jeff Flake and I introduced a new bipartisan war authorization but Congress has remained on the sidelines. The events of recent weeks demonstrate that Congress can no longer ignore this threat," Kaine said in a statement after Obama renewed his call for a new force resolution in a prime-time Oval Office address on Dec. 6, but many members of Congress responded to that call with a shrug .  

Obama's own speech that night hinted at the difficulty in drafting such an authorization.  

He said a “long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria,” is precisely “what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield. … But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.”  

And now McConnell's statement Friday afternoon indicates that no action will be taken anytime soon.  

"There may be a time for an AUMF. I don't think it's now," McConnell said.  

The president submitted a draft of a new authorization in February, but that proposal has not moved in Congress due to a lack of consensus. Democrats are mostly concerned it would lead to increased military involvement, while many Republicans are concerned it would constrain future presidents, a position illustrated by McConnell's comments.  

After Obama's address on Dec. 6, Flake said it was the right course for Congress to weigh such an authorization.  

“If people want something different, then use it as a starting point, but let’s just get something done to authorize,” Flake told CNN. “Our allies need to hear it. Our troops in the field need to know that we’re behind them, that we speak with one voice. And our adversaries need to know that they do as well.”  

“Leadership in both parties is reluctant to bring this forward,” Flake later added. “And members are reluctant to get themselves on the record, apparently. It should be no excuse.”

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