A year and a half into the ISIS war, President Obama has been mostly ambivalent about the idea of Congress authorizing it, but his suggestion last week that he would welcome such a vote as a show of “unity” has led to a handful of Congressional proposals, with varying amounts of Congressional interest.
The most backed within Congress is the Kaine-Flake bill in the Senate (the Rigell-Welch bill in the House), which has bipartisan backers in both the House and the Senate, repealing the previous Iraq War authorization and authorizing three years of conflict, with options to reauthorize it.
A similar bill from House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D – CA) adds a bit more limitation, also withdrawing the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda and making the new AUMF cover the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS, with the same three-year deadline to ensure Congress revisits it. The Schiff bill also aims to require the president to keep Congress informed on who the “associated forces” that it is fighting alongside ISIS in Syria are.
A third competing bill, proposed a bit earlier than the other two, comes from hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham (R – SC). That bill, unlike the others, is virtually open-ended. The bill provides no geographical limits, no timetables, no prohibitions on any sort of use of force, and no suggestion of an expiration date.
President Obama had previously sought a very open-ended AUMF, but with some appearances of restrictions couched in language vague enough as to be totally meaningless in restricting action. The White House has not come out in favor of any of the current bills yet.
But if any has a realistic chance, it’s the Kaine-Flake bill. Even then, that chance is likely to be a long shot, as Sen. Kaine (D – VA) notes that much of the Congressional leadership is balking at advancing the bills, and seems more comfortable with the status quo, where the war is conducted without authorization, and by extension without any hint of Congressional culpability.
The leadership’s lack of interest in holding a vote has killed previous AUMF efforts, and this renewed round of discussion may not indicate that a vote is any more likely.