WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers Wednesday that if they can't pass President Barack Obama's war authorization request with a broad, bipartisan vote, it's better that they don't pass one at all.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry was asked about the usefulness of Congress passing an Authorization for Use of Military Force if it only has GOP votes. As it stands, neither party is thrilled with the president's proposal for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also called ISIS. But Republicans control both chambers, so they are tasked with moving it forward.
Kerry didn't hesitate with his answer.
"Is that worse than no AUMF?" he said. "Absolutely."
Doing nothing on military authorization may very well end up being Congress' plan -- and the administration may be just fine with that.
Obama doesn't think he actually needs new congressional authority to bomb the Islamic State; he's been using a sweeping 2001 AUMF to justify air strikes against the terrorist group for the past seven months. His goal in sending lawmakers a new, Islamic State-specific AUMF was to get them to pass it with a strong vote and send a message to the international community that Congress endorses the ongoing U.S. military campaign.
But after months of demanding that Obama send an AUMF proposal, Congress got one it doesn't like. Democrats say the language is too broad when it comes to the use of ground troops and geographic limitations, and Republicans say it's not broad enough. It's unclear if there is a middle ground. In the meantime, the U.S. is continuing its military strikes against the Islamic State, regardless of what Congress does.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the committee chairman, has vowed to keep holding hearings with top military officials to get specifics on the administration's strategy for defeating the Islamic State and, ideally, to help get an AUMF moving. He brought in Kerry, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Gen. Martin Dempsey on Wednesday.
But even Corker said it doesn't make much sense for Congress to duke it out over passing a new AUMF if it's a one-party document.
"One of the things we don't want to do is embark on a path that leads nowhere," he told reporters Tuesday. "We don't have a single Democrat that supports this. Some Republicans might be willing to think about a more limited AUMF. I don't know who they are, but there may be some. But that's if Democrats would sign on, and that's not the case."
Beyond the debate over the new authorization, the Tennessee senator said that Obama's continued reliance on the 2001 AUMF to justify military action against the Islamic State means that passing a new AUMF amounts to little more than a symbolic measure. Some Democrats have pushed to repeal that 9/11-era AUMF, arguing that it's been stretched beyond it's original intent. Obama has said he supports repealing it, but has pushed for doing that separately from his new AUMF proposal.
"I think we all know at present, certainly, whether we pass an AUMF or don't pass an AUMF has zero effect on what's happening on the ground," Corker said. "None. Zero."
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