WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Sunday once again called on Congress to vote to authorize the war against the self-described Islamic State.
"For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight," Obama said.
But minutes earlier, the American public was presented with why that's not going to happen. Basically, nobody is even paying attention to the debate over the need for a new authorization for the use of military force.
In a CNN segment ahead of the president's remarks, host Wolf Blitzer didn't seem to know that Obama has already sent lawmakers a draft AUMF proposal. It was nearly a year ago, but they haven't done anything with it, which is the heart of the problem.
"Should the president declare this a war and seek congressional authorization for the use of military force?" Blitzer asked political analyst David Gergen.
Gergen responded as if Obama hadn't already sent over a proposal: "I don't think that's necessary at this point, Wolf. I think what he does have to do is take action."
Obama has been directing strikes against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria since August 2014 without new congressional authorization. The Constitution requires Congress to declare wars, but in this case, Obama says a sweeping, 9/11-era AUMF that never expired gives him the authority to act unilaterally. Lawmakers argued for months that he was stretching that war authorization to its limits, so Obama sent them an ISIS-specific AUMF proposal in February, saying he welcomed a vote on it even if he doesn't think he needs it. Nothing has happened since.
Many simply don't want their fingerprints on a war vote, and figure if Obama thinks he's got the authority to act without them, leave it in his hands. But AUMF proponents argue it's their job to vote to authorize war, and not doing so is a colossal failing. It's not a partisan fight. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced an AUMF proposal in June. A group of 35 House Republicans and Democrats wrote to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in November calling for an AUMF vote.
Congressional inaction leaves the U.S. in a open-ended war without so much as a debate on its duration, scope or use of ground troops. It also gives lawmakers a pass in having to vote on authorizing a war they're otherwise happy to critique. To date, the U.S. has led more than 8,573 airstrikes, spent $5.2 billion and sent more than 3,550 military personnel overseas. Just last week, Obama announced he is deploying more special forces to Iraq and Syria to help carry out raids.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a vocal proponent of a new war authorization, welcomed Obama's speech Sunday night. He said he plans to introduce a new AUMF proposal in the coming days.
It's time for Congress "to take up an authorization for the use of force against ISIS and end its abdication of responsibility over the war effort," Schiff said.