WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to urge Congress to pass legislation authorizing the ongoing war against Islamic State militants.
But the president gave no signs that he would start that process by sending Congress draft language for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force -- something lawmakers have been waiting for him to do for months. To the contrary, White House officials signaled earlier in the day that Obama might not send language at all.
The president only mentioned the need for new war authorization once in his remarks. He said the U.S.-led military coalition has been successful in halting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, also known as ISIS or ISIL, but that it's going to take time to defeat them.
"Tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL," he said.
Lawmakers in both parties will be unhappy that Obama didn't say anything new. Last week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters he expected the White House to send over draft language in a few weeks. It's unclear whether anything has changed since then.
"I am disappointed he did not signal an intention to send a draft to Congress for consideration," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a vocal advocate for passing a new AUMF. "The President is right that as a nation, we are stronger when Congress and the President are united behind our mission. But additional delay, which I fear may be the case absent an administration draft, dishonors our service members and further cements a dangerous precedent for the future.” Corker, who is the White House's point person on moving war authorization legislation through Congress, recently told The Huffington Post that he suspects administration officials are slow-walking the process of sending language to Capitol Hill because they're not even sure what their anti-Islamic State strategy is in Syria. Obama said in November that passing new war authorization was one of his top priorities for the lame-duck session, but nothing ever came of it.
“I look forward to seeing the president’s language soon on an authorization for the use of military force," Corker said in a statement after Obama made the comment about war authorization.
White House officials told reporters earlier Tuesday that they are "working through" the question of whether or not to send war authorization language to Congress.
"He will describe his own approach and reaffirm his intention to get it done," one senior administration official said of Obama's coming speech. "But he won't explicitly promise to send one over to the Hill."
It's been five months since the U.S began bombing the Islamic State. In that time, the U.S. has spent more than $1 billion, participated in more than 1,700 air strikes, authorized roughly 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and lost three U.S. soldiers. All of this has gone on without a new AUMF.
Obama maintains he doesn't need new legal authority to bomb the Islamic State, citing a sweeping AUMF from 2001 as his legal justification, but has said he welcomes new authorization anyway. Lawmakers in both parties disagree that the president has that authority. Some Democrats have grown tired of waiting for the White House and pushed Congress to move its own AUMF, but others are wary of advancing a war bill without sign-off from the White House. Typically, the White House begins the war authorization process.
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said it's not enough for Obama to talk about the need for a new AUMF.
“The Speaker continues to believe that the Commander-in-Chief has an obligation to send up language and help build a coalition to pass an AUMF to defeat and destroy ISIL," said Fritz. "Vague promises about 'working through' difficult issues isn’t going to cut it.”
See more on Obama's speech below: