WASHINGTON -- The push for Congress to assert its constitutional powers for war got a hawkish backer on Wednesday, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) promised to introduce legislation authorizing the White House to attack the Islamic State terrorist group.
President Barack Obama has already been launching strikes on the extremist religious movement in Iraq and Syria under an Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, that Congress passed in 2001 to go after Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda.
But growing numbers of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are raising objections that a measure originally aimed at attacking Bin Laden and other perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks has been stretched beyond reasonable bounds.
Spurred by the attacks in Paris last week, Graham, a Republican presidential candidate, said it's time to give Obama and his successor free rein to hit the militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL harder.
“We must allow this President and every future President to do whatever is necessary to destroy ISIL before they hit us here at home," Graham said in a statement. "This authorization will mirror the approach we took against al-Qaeda after 9/11."
“We only have two choices regarding ISIL -- fight them in their backyard or fight them in ours," Graham added. "I choose to fight them in their backyard.”
His proposal sounds as staggeringly broad as the 2001 AUMF, which allows the president to use military force against anyone, anywhere, if they are connected to al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks. Under Graham's AUMF, there would be no geographic limits, no expiration date, no limits on ground troops and no prohibitions on the United States' ability to disrupt online terrorist communications.
The reality is that Graham's proposal isn't likely to go anywhere, especially after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week he opposed debating a new authorization. McConnell argued that the president has failed to develop any strategy to combat ISIS, leaving Congress with nothing to work with.
But the fact that someone as hawkish as Graham is putting forward an AUMF at all shows that lawmakers in both parties are realizing they need to take some kind of action.
A Graham spokesman said he would introduce the measure after Thanksgiving.
Obama sent Congress his own AUMF proposal earlier this year, but Democrats complained that it was too broad and Republicans said it was too restrictive. Little has happened since, with many lawmakers reluctant to attach their names to a war vote that could someday haunt them the way their Iraq War vote did.
Still, some legislators have done just that, with Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) calling for a vote on the war on ISIS earlier this week.
"What we've done is sat on the sidelines and criticized, but we have not been willing either to vote to authorize what's going on, vote to stop what's going on or vote to refine or revise what's going on," Kaine charged on the Senate floor.
The president criticized Republicans on Tuesday for not having the will to debate the parameters of war, even as they moved quickly to block Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.
"I’ve been waiting a year and a half or more for legislation that would authorize the military activities we’re carrying out in Syria as we speak," Obama said during an event in Manila. "Now, suddenly, they are able to rush in in a day or two to solve the threat of widows and orphans and others fleeing war-torn lands, and that's their most constructive contribution to effort against ISIL. That doesn’t sound right to me, and I suspect it doesn't sound right to the American people."
Other Democrats on Tuesday echoed Obama, saying it's time to hold a new vote.
"Working under a 14-year-old AUMF is not acceptable," said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).
"In this ever-changing world that we live in, we need to update the AUMF, and let every member of Congress who was not here back then have the opportunities to express him or herself as to their belief the direction the United States should go in," Crowley said.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, went a step farther.
"I find that to be cowardice on the part of those politicians who talk tough but won't vote tough," Becerra said.
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