Republicans fault Obama's war plan
President Obama’s request for war powers against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is running into trouble on both sides of the aisle, with some Republicans now arguing the White House should place no restrictions on the use of ground troops.
The president's plan for an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) limits the use of combat forces, in line with his promise that there will be no “boots on the ground” in the war against ISIS.
Obama’s plan would allow U.S. troops to conduct search and rescue operations, target ISIS leaders and conduct operations in support of intelligence, advice and assist operations, but would ban any "enduring offensive ground combat operations."
While the language is intended to win over Democrats fearful of another ground war in the Middle East, it’s not sitting well with some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"I will not give consent to a measure that ties the hands of our military commanders or takes options off the table," said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of he Homeland Security Committee.
And Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the leader of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, said military experts and commanders must have the "agility and authority they need to successfully confront" ISIS.
"Today's request by the president does not meet that criteria," Turner said.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also expressed skepticism at the president’s proposal, saying that any AUMF "must give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people."
"I have concerns that the president’s request does not meet this standard," he said.
Other House Republicans issued statements to "encourage" lawmakers to give ground troops flexibility, or called upon the president to "explain" how the military can operate within restrictions. Some called for the president to explain his strategy against ISIS, or show "commitment" to the fight.
Some Republicans maintained Obama already has the authority he needs to target ISIS under the prior 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, and said military commanders should have the freedom to do whatever it takes to destroy ISIS.
"I personally don't think that the president as commander in chief needs congressional authority, and I think he already has it under existing use of force, but I think it makes the country look great if he can come and we can pass it," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
"What I don't want to see is a use of force authorization that limits the president and his ability to destroy ISIS. Destroying ISIS is the ultimate goal," he added.
The pushback from Republicans to the language on ground troops could create a quandary for the White House.
While many in the GOP say the language is too limiting, Democrats on Wednesday suggested the language wasn’t limiting enough.
Democrats are particularly concerned by the provision that prohibits “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” fearing it won’t guarantee that U.S. troops are not sent to the field in Iraq and Syria.
"There's a lot of concern about what that phrase means," Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said as he left a Democratic caucus meeting. "I don't think that's an established [term]. It sounds pretty open-ended to me."
So far, only one Democrat has formally come out against Obama’s request.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), president of the Democratic freshman class and former Air Force officer, said "as currently drafted, I cannot support the administration’s proposed authorization for the use of force against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant."
"ISIL’s actions are repugnant and should be confronted. At present, however, I do not believe the Administration has made the case that ISIL represents a direct, grave threat to our nation," Lieu said, using another acronym for ISIS.
Democrats are also concerned that Obama’s plan would not repeal the 2001 AUMF that was passed before the war in Afghanistan.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the House’s main proponent for an AUMF, said "there are some key aspects of the proposal which I believe must be narrowed further.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has pushed for a war powers vote in the Senate, said he was concerned with the "breadth and vagueness of the U.S. ground troop language" and would seek to clarify it.
Some Democratic defense hawks were silent on the ground troops issue, or promised to "carefully review" it.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said limitations on ground troops "needs close congressional scrutiny."
"It is important that we provide the president and our military commanders with the tools and the latitude necessary to defeat this threat to our vital interests," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"I will carefully review the president’s proposal with an eye toward its duration, geographic restrictions, and operational parameters," he said.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who said he had “serious concerns” about the breadth of the proposal, expressed optimism that Republicans and Democrats could approve an AUMF.
“This is the beginning of a process, a beginning of a debate,” he told NPR. “I think that we can and should craft a AUMF designed to degrade and defeat ISIL.”