WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday that he expects the White House to send war authorization language to Congress in the coming weeks -- a step that would move lawmakers closer to finally putting parameters on the nation's months-long war against the Islamic State.
Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters he's been having "fairly positive discussions" with the White House about the need to get moving on a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force for the military actions against the Islamist militant group. He said he talked directly to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during a joint event in Tennessee on Friday, and to the White House legal counsel on Monday.
"I'm hopeful they're going to send something over in the next few weeks," Corker said. "Hopeful."
It's been five months since the U.S began bombing Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. 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 new war authorization.
Obama maintains he doesn't need new authority to bomb the Islamic State, citing a sweeping AUMF from 2001 as his legal justification, but has said he welcomes it anyway. Lawmakers in both parties disagree he has that authority. Some in Congress have grown tired of waiting for the White House to send draft language and have pushed for 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.
On Tuesday, Republicans were pleasantly surprised to learn the White House may soon send over draft AUMF language. GOP leaders heard the news directly from Obama during a White House meeting with congressional leaders earlier in the day.
The president “indicated he is working toward sending us an Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters. “A good starting place is for him to tell us what he wants and to provide the initial document off which we would work. And my feeling is that we’re going to get that sometime in the near future.”
"It was news to me," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.), who was among those in the White House meeting. "He said he's going to send up an AUMF."
"I think it's great that they are," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "I think it's appropriate, just as they have with every other major authorization of use of military force."
Asked for comment on the timing of AUMF language being submitted, a White House official said Obama welcomes interest in a new war authorization that "provides a clear signal of support for our ongoing military operations against ISIL."
The official continued, "At the request of bipartisan Members present at today’s meeting, the White House will continue to work with the Congressional leaders on the details of that language and we look forward to sharing a draft with Congress that reflects their bipartisan input."
Corker said that once the White House submits AUMF language, his committee will begin hearing testimony from top defense and intelligence officials about the U.S. strategy for defeating the Islamic State. He told The Huffington Post last week that he expects Marine Gen. John Allen, Obama's point person in the international effort targeting the Islamic State, to testify before the committee in the next month.
"The amount of resources and the rhetoric regarding the outcomes are not aligned at present," he said. "They need to be more aligned."
Asked if the apparent momentum in moving an AUMF reflects a shift from the White House, Corker said there's no shift yet.
"You've got to actually get the language before there's a shift," he said.
Elise Foley contributed reporting.