McConnell’s Surprise Move on War Authority

Neither Republicans nor Democrats knew the majority leader planned to set up a possible debate on authorizing the use of force against ISIS.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (center), joined at right by Majority Whip John Cornyn.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Jan. 21, 2016, 6 p.m.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell offered mem­bers a snow-week­end sur­prise late Wed­nes­day night: Quietly tee­ing up a po­ten­tial de­bate on the leg­al un­der­pin­ning for the fight against IS­IS.

After months of wor­ry­ing that such a res­ol­u­tion—known as an au­thor­iz­a­tion for the use of mil­it­ary force—would tie the next pres­id­ent’s hands, Mc­Con­nell’s move to fast-track the meas­ure sur­prised even his top deputy, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn, who was un­aware that Mc­Con­nell had set up the au­thor­iz­a­tion.

“He did?” Cornyn asked Na­tion­al Journ­al on Thursday morn­ing.

The AUMF put for­ward by Mc­Con­nell would not re­strict the pres­id­ent’s use of ground troops, nor have any lim­its re­lated to time or geo­graphy. Nor would it touch on the is­sue of what to do with the 2001 AUMF, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has used to at­tack IS­IS des­pite that au­thor­iz­a­tion’s in­struc­tions to use force against those who planned the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. By con­trast, the leg­al au­thor­ity put for­ward by the ad­min­is­tra­tion last Feb­ru­ary wouldn’t au­thor­ize “en­dur­ing of­fens­ive ground com­bat op­er­a­tions” and would have ended three years after en­act­ment, un­less reau­thor­ized.

After sit­ting on the pres­id­ent’s pro­posed AUMF for nearly a year, amid deep in­fight­ing in the Sen­ate over the meas­ure, Mc­Con­nell’s move came as a sur­prise to many mem­bers. Just in Decem­ber, Mc­Con­nell dis­missed the idea of bring­ing up a new au­thor­iz­a­tion, telling re­port­ers: “It’s clear the pres­id­ent does not have a strategy in place, so it would be hard to fig­ure out how to au­thor­ize a non-strategy.”

Don Stew­art, Mc­Con­nell’s spokes­man, said Thursday in an email that the new AUMF “is not the one the [p]res­id­ent asked for” and “not one that would tie the [p]res­id­ent’s hands.”

Stew­art ad­ded that the pro­cess Mc­Con­nell used to set up the AUMF, known as “Rule XIV,” merely sets up the au­thor­iz­a­tion for a fu­ture vote, but does not put it on the cal­en­dar—mean­ing a vote could come at any time, or not at all. The res­ol­u­tion already has four Re­pub­lic­an co­spon­sors: Sens. Lind­sey Gra­ham, Daniel Coats, Joni Ernst, and Or­rin Hatch.

That came as news to many mem­bers Thursday. Sev­er­al sen­at­ors said they were un­aware that Mc­Con­nell had moved to fast-track an au­thor­iz­a­tion and some Re­pub­lic­ans im­me­di­ately poin­ted out is­sues with the pro­pos­al. Sen. Jeff Flake, who in­tro­duced a more lim­ited AUMF with Vir­gin­ia Demo­crat Tim Kaine last June, said: “We need to pass one—we don’t need to just make a polit­ic­al state­ment.”

“I just know that it’ll be dif­fi­cult to get Demo­crat­ic sup­port on this,” he ad­ded.

Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Chair­man Bob Cork­er said that there is still a “wide di­versity” of opin­ions on the is­sue. Some Demo­crats were crit­ic­al of even the pres­id­ent’s own draft AUMF, warn­ing that they’d need ad­di­tion­al re­stric­tions from the ad­min­is­tra­tion on troop levels and geo­graph­ic bound­ar­ies be­fore they could sup­port any au­thor­iz­a­tion. Re­pub­lic­ans, mean­while, wor­ried deeply about re­strict­ing the pres­id­ent as this ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the next one, work to com­bat IS­IS.

Cork­er’s com­mit­tee—and the Sen­ate at large—was so deeply di­vided over the pres­id­ent’s AUMF pro­pos­al in Feb­ru­ary that the pan­el ul­ti­mately dropped the is­sue, with Cork­er ar­guing with the ad­min­is­tra­tion that no new au­thor­iz­a­tion was needed. “I don’t think it changes any­thing,” he said, of the new res­ol­u­tion.

“I’m in the same place that I’ve been—and that is I be­lieve the ad­min­is­tra­tion has the au­thor­ity to do what they’re do­ing,” he ad­ded. “They be­lieve they have the au­thor­ity to do what they’re do­ing. If a con­sensus de­vel­ops and I be­lieve that something con­struct­ive re­l­at­ive to us deal­ing with IS­IS might come out of it then cer­tainly I’d be glad to con­sider it.”

In a state­ment from his of­fice, Cork­er later ad­ded: “Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell and I have been in con­stant com­mu­nic­a­tion over this is­sue and there is no day­light between us on what would be needed to ac­tu­ally take up and pass an AUMF.”

Still, sev­er­al long-time ad­voc­ates for passing a new meas­ure au­thor­iz­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war against IS­IS were pleased to see an AUMF mov­ing, however slightly, for­ward.

“This is the right thing,” said Gra­ham, a co­spon­sor on the new AUMF res­ol­u­tion. “This is the right in­fra­struc­ture to have.”

“If our Demo­crat­ic friends don’t want to give this pres­id­ent and oth­er pres­id­ents the abil­ity to go after IS­IS without lim­it­a­tion to geo­graphy, time and means—be on the re­cord,” he ad­ded.

Kaine, a Demo­crat who has ag­gress­ively ad­voc­ated for an AUMF, was thrilled Thursday that the Sen­ate could soon take up de­bate, though he ad­ded that he hasn’t yet seen the de­tails. “After 18 months, I feel like the in­sti­tu­tion might be fi­nally wak­ing up that this is a threat,” Kaine said. “So we’ll see what the plan is on it, but the no­tion that we may be fi­nally tak­ing our job ser­i­ously on it is something I’m hope­ful about.”

Kaine said that al­though he and the vast ma­jor­ity of Con­gress sup­port com­batting IS­IS, he dis­agrees with the ad­min­is­tra­tion that the pres­id­ent is with­in his au­thor­ity to do so. “I be­lieve the war is il­leg­al,” Kaine said Thursday. “I don’t think there’s a leg­al jus­ti­fic­a­tion for it. And I think the greatest danger we end up do­ing is al­low­ing the pres­id­ent to wage a war without Con­gress weigh­ing in.”

Kaine ad­ded that the pres­id­ent ac­ted ini­tially “to pro­tect Amer­ic­an lives” and cred­ited the White House for send­ing over an AUMF last year. “We haven’t done any­thing. So just the no­tion that maybe fi­nally there’s some in­terest in this, I find grat­i­fy­ing. But we’ll have to work through the de­tails,” he said.

Sev­er­al Demo­crats said they were un­aware of or hadn’t read the new AUMF lan­guage, but some greeted the op­por­tun­ity to open de­bate on the is­sue.

“I haven’t read it but I’m en­cour­aged by the fact that he’s not run­ning away from this is­sue any longer,” Sen­ate Minor­ity Whip Dick Durbin said of Mc­Con­nell. “The pres­id­ent has asked for this for a long time.”

Sen. Robert Men­en­dez, who helped to get a Demo­crat­ic draft AUMF through the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee as chair­man in Decem­ber 2014, said that the new au­thor­iz­a­tion was news to him, but that he sup­por­ted bring­ing up the is­sue.

“I’m for the Con­gress vot­ing on an AUMF; of course it de­pends what the AUMF looks like,” Men­en­dez said Thursday. “I don’t want a blank check,” he said.

Cornyn, who in Decem­ber said that Re­pub­lic­ans would not present an AUMF of their own un­til the pres­id­ent out­lined a strategy, said that he non­ethe­less wel­comed de­bate on the is­sue.

“I don’t think we should be afraid of that de­bate, but we need a co­her­ent strategy from the pres­id­ent which we still don’t have and we also don’t need to tie the hands of the next pres­id­ent by re­strict­ing what the pres­id­ent can do,” Cornyn said.

“What I find kind of iron­ic about this is the pres­id­ent ap­par­ently thinks he has all the au­thor­ity he needs to do what he’s do­ing,” he ad­ded. “But I’m not afraid of the de­bate, I think it’s an im­port­ant de­bate to have, and cer­tainly the people we send in harm’s way need to know that the coun­try is be­hind them. So, thanks for telling me.”

This art­icle has been up­dated to cla­ri­fy that Mc­Con­nell’s move sets up a pos­sible floor de­bate, but does not guar­an­tee one.

What We're Following See More »
BUT NOT SUBMITTED THEM
Trump Says He's Completed Answers to Mueller's Questions
1 days ago
THE LATEST
BUT DESANTIS APPEARS TO HAVE LOCKED UP GOVERNOR'S RACE
Florida Senate Race Heads to Hand Recount
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Following a five-day machine recount of the more than 8.3 million votes cast in the Nov. 6 election, Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered hand recounts Thursday afternoon in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott." Meanwhile, the "race for governor, which also went through a machine recount, was outside the margins that trigger a manual recount as new tallies came in, making Republican former congressman Ron DeSantis the governor-elect a full nine days after Democrat Andrew Gillum first conceded."

Source:
ORANGE COUNTY IS NOW TOTALLY BLUE
Mimi Walters Is the Latest GOP Incumbent to Go Down
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"In another blow to California Republicans reeling from defeats in the Nov. 6 election, Democrat Katie Porter has ousted GOP Rep. Mimi Walters in an upscale Orange County congressional district that was a longtime conservative bastion." Every district within the county is now held by a Democrat.

Source:
POLIQUIN STILL CHALLENGING RANKED-CHOICE VOTING
Poliquin Loses in Maine's 2nd District
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Democrat Jared Golden has defeated Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the nation’s first use of ranked-choice voting for a congressional race, according to state election officials. The Democrat won just over 50 percent of the vote in round one of ranked-choice voting, meaning he’ll be the next congressman from the 2nd District unless Poliquin’s legal challenges to the voting system prevail. A Golden win in the 2nd District, which President Donald Trump carried in 2016, mean Democrats have picked up 35 seats in the House."

Source:
IF SHE AGREES TO RULES REFORMS
Republicans Could Back Pelosi in Speaker Vote
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said he and some other Republicans are committed to backing Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Speaker if she agrees to enact a package of rule reforms. Reed, co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said the growing frustration with gridlock, polarization and a top-heavy leadership approach in Congress are the reasons why several members in his party are willing to supply Pelosi with some Speaker votes in exchange for extracting an overhaul of the House rules." The caucus wants to fast-track any legislation with support of two-thirds of members, and require a supermajority to pass any legislation brought up under a closed rule.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login