WASHINGTON -- The White House signaled again Wednesday that it plans to send draft language to Congress for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State group -- a retroactive effort to put limits on a $1.3 billion war that's been already underway for six months.
During his daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said to expect news on an AUMF "relatively soon." Asked when exactly that will be, Earnest simply repeated, "relatively soon."
Congress hasn't put any parameters on the war against the extremist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, since the war began in August. Since then, the U.S. has participated in more than 1,700 airstrikes and authorized sending 3,000 troops to Iraq. The military campaign has been costing $8.3 million a day, and three U.S. soldiers have lost their lives in it.
The biggest obstacle to new authorization has been that the White House hasn't sent draft AUMF language to Congress. President Barack Obama has been saying for months that while he thinks he currently has the authority to bomb ISIS, thanks to a sweeping 2001 AUMF that never expired, he welcomes a new AUMF narrowly tailored to ISIS. But he hasn't sent lawmakers draft language for what he wants in it, a step that typically starts the war authorization process. In the meantime, many lawmakers are reluctant to pass an AUMF without sign-off from the White House. The result is that nothing has moved.
Some Democrats have grown so frustrated that the war is carrying on without any debate or limits, that they've offered up their own authorization bills. Last week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) introduced AUMF legislation. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hastily passed another AUMF in late December, with only Democratic votes.
Neither of those bills will go anywhere, though, namely because they are narrower than the White house wants. Secretary of State John Kerry told senators in December that Obama would oppose an AUMF that explicitly prohibits U.S. ground troops, a provision that some Democrats have insisted on. Republicans appeared more amenable to Kerry's request.
Earlier Wednesday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) pressed for action on an AUMF in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter. Amid questions on the strategy for defeating ISIS, Kaine noted that for all the administration's talk of being part of a broad coalition of countries fighting ISIS, about 80 percent of airstrikes have come from U.S.-flown jets.
"It is still my hope that the White House will send to us a draft Authorization for Use of Military Force," said the Virginia senator. "I don't think this is a war that can be waged in perpetuity without Congress weighing in and putting our thumbprint on it. If we're going to ask people to risk their lives in this mission, Congress is going to debate and authorize it."