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Facing militant threat, US senator shoulders matters of war

February 19, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee is at the center of the U.S. Congress’ debate over President Barack Obama’s war powers request.

Sen. Bob Corker, who nearly quit the standstill Senate two years ago, is the face of the Republican response to Obama’s formal request for new authorization for the use of force against Islamic State militants. And Corker is certain to play an outsized role on the congressional response to negotiations involving the ZU.,S,Western powers and Iran over its nuclear program.”

“I think all of us want to be productive in life. It was like watching paint dry,” Corker, 62, said of his first eight years in the polarized Senate. “Yes, I do find myself in this second term in a very different place. I’m very glad I ran for re-election.”

As early as next week, Corker will gavel open Senate hearings on U.S. military intervention — a proxy, in some ways, for the broader debate over the nation’s role in overseas conflicts in the post-Sept. 11 age of terrorism.

The affable former mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, also carries a hefty share of his party’s drive to show the nation and the world that the new Republican majority can govern after it took control of the Senate in last November’s elections. The party’s hopes in the 2016 presidential race depend in part on substantiating that campaign promise.

There’s no tougher or more visible test of the party’s lawmaking acumen than Obama’s draft war powers request, which landed in Congress with a thud.

The U.S. military has waged an extensive campaign against the extremists for months, deploying more than 2,700 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces and conducting airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria. Obama wants new authority against IS, which has sparked international outrage over video of their beheading of hostages and burning of a Jordanian pilot.

Saying he was determined to avoid another long ground war in the Middle East, Obama submitted a use-of-force proposal last week that would expire after three years and bar the sustained commitment of American ground forces. The fight would be unbounded by national borders.

Obama’s request is a starting point for the war debate. Corker will steer hearings on the parameters of any military action, from limits on time to the geography of any campaign, and try to produce legislation that gives Obama the authorization. The full Senate would then consider the measure, with the outcome unclear because of such passionate disagreements over its terms.

Conservatives generally want broad authorities for the president, with no limits on troops. Other lawmakers want the new war powers narrowly defined to allow the president to train and equip local forces and conduct airstrikes, but not launch a ground combat mission. The 2016 presidential and congressional races loom, and anyone hoping to win an election that year is acutely aware of the political repercussions of any vote for or against war.

The gravity of the issue, and his outsized role, isn’t lost on Corker. He says he’ll conduct three or four weeks of hearings in stages, from educating the public about the nature of the threat to finding any common ground between Obama’s request and the array of variations sought by Corker’s colleagues.

As the Obama administration switches to selling the idea of a sustained assault on militants in as many as eight countries, Corker is likely to draw on his own deal-making style, in which who is at the opposite end of the negotiating table is less important than their terms for an agreement.

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.