WASHINGTON -- Congressional leaders are still ignoring calls for a war authorization vote. But the slow trickle of support for a vote continued Thursday as three more lawmakers introduced bills to put parameters on the military campaign against Islamic State terrorists.
Reps. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) unveiled an Authorization for the Use of Military Force that would ban the use of "significant U.S. ground troops in combat," except to protect U.S. citizens. It would expire in three years, and it includes a clause stating that it is the sole authority for U.S. military action against ISIS -- an attempt to get away from 2001 and 2002 AUMFs still on the books.
"We must not fear ISIS, nor should we fear the debate about how to defeat ISIS," Rigell said at a press conference. "I think the leadership of the House, and indeed the Senate, needs to trust the members who are representative of the people and allow us to go through the process of debating this."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also began circulating a draft AUMF on Thursday with somewhat different parameters, including giving Congress the ability to quickly revise the authorization if the president deploys U.S. ground troops in combat. This comes after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a 2016 presidential candidate, put forward another AUMF last month that would give the president incredibly broad authority to take military action.
Congress is in the bizarre predicament of debating the need to authorize a war that's already been underway for a year and a half. They've spent billions of dollars on it, and approved the deployment of a few thousand troops overseas. They just skipped over the part where you're supposed to authorize it in the first place.
The dispute stems from Obama saying he's got the authority to take military action against ISIS without congressional sign-off because he's covered by a sweeping 2001 AUMF, which basically lets the president attack anyone, anywhere, if they're connected to the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks. ISIS is an offshoot of al Qaeda, argues the administration, and the 2001 AUMF never expired.
Some lawmakers disagree that Obama can use a 14-year-old AUMF for a new war -- "it's illegal," Kaine said Thursday -- and others say even if it is technically legal, it's a stretch. On top of that, the Constitution requires Congress to declare wars, and many lawmakers say they're failing in their most basic job by handing over war-making decisions to the White House.
Obama himself called for Congress to pass a new AUMF more narrowly tailored to the ISIS fight, and he even sent them a draft proposal in February. But that's where things have stalled. Democrats want some limits on geography and troop levels, while Republicans want to give the president broad powers. They've bickered about it, but haven't taken the time to nail down something the majority of them can support.
The biggest obstacle may be lawmakers simply wanting to avoid taking a tough vote, particularly since some got burned by their votes for the Iraq War.
"I do think that many of our colleagues here just don't want to get on record here," Flake said. "Let's face it, we all will do that if we can."
Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have shown interest in the issue. If Obama says he's already got the authority he needs, they argue, why bother wading into a war vote? But AUMF backers say momentum is on their side, and given the fact that it's a bipartisan push, they think their efforts will clear the path for a vote. One day.
"The leaders need the members to demonstrate a desire and a will to act," Welch said. "If we can mobilize the support amongst our colleagues, then we give the latitude that the leaders need to put this on the floor."