White House asking authorization for military to fight IS
Feb. 11, 2015
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House circulated a proposal Tuesday that would authorize the U.S. military to fight Islamic State terrorists but assure Congress there would be no "enduring offensive combat" role, officials said. They said the ambiguous wording was designed to satisfy lawmakers with widely varying views on the need for ground operations.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, said President Barack Obama would seek authorization for the use of force that would expire after three years. It would end the approval for operations in Iraq that Congress passed in 2002.
Menendez spoke with reporters after he and other Democratic senators met privately with top White House aides, on the eve of an anticipated formal request for legislation from the president.
"Hopefully there will not be a significant delay in Congress acting," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
The meetings unfolded against a fresh reminder of the threat posed by terrorists who occupy large areas of Syria and Iraq — the confirmed death of a 26-year-old American aid worker who had been held hostage by the group.
Obama pledged to bring anyone responsible for Kayla Mueller's captivity and death to justice "no matter how long it takes."
Of immediate concern was a legislative struggle — the search for a compromise that could satisfy Democrats who oppose the use of American ground forces in the fight against IS, and Republicans who favor at least leaving the possibility open.
Menendez, in describing the White House's opaque formulation, said it remained subject to modification.
One influential Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said it was "bizarre" for Obama to be asking lawmakers to limit his own power as commander in chief.
A senior Democrat, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, said she has significant questions about the president's proposal. "I don't know what the word 'enduring' means. I am very apprehensive about a vague, foggy word," she said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was more emphatic after a separate meeting on the other side of the Capitol. "I'm not for boots on the ground," she said, referring to U.S. combat forces.
Menendez also said it was not yet clear if the proposal would cancel a 2001 authorization for the use of force that Congress approved shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Republicans control both houses of Congress, and presidents generally court bipartisan support for legislation of the type Obama now seeks.
Several other lawmakers who were briefed in earlier meetings, said the president would likely seek legislation targeted exclusively against the fighters seeking establishment of an Islamic state, wherever they are and whatever name they use.
Apart from the midday meeting with Democrats in the Capitol attended by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, some Republicans expressed concern with other elements of the administration's emerging proposal.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said administration officials had told him it would not provide for the protection of U.S.-trained Syrian rebel troops on the ground in the event of an air attack by Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
"It's an unsound military strategy. I think it's immoral if the authorization doesn't allow for us to counter Assad's air power," he said.
There was little evident dispute in Congress that new legislation was needed, both to replace outdated authorization and also to underscore a bipartisan desire to defeat the terrorists seeking an Islamic state.
Among members of Obama's Democratic party, Rep. Steny Hoyer said during the day that some rank-and-file lawmakers want to set geographic limits and restrict the types of forces that can be used.
"They want some time limit so we can reconsider at some point in time, whether it's 24 months, 36 months, 48 months," he said at a news conference.
Many Republicans have said they prefer legislation that at least permits the use of ground troops if Obama decides they may be necessary. Some, including Sen. John McCain, have gone further, saying ground troops are needed if the Islamic State fighters are to be defeated.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Alan Fram contributed to this report.