WASHINGTON -- In a surprise move, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday to force a debate on whether U.S. troops should withdraw from Iraq and Syria in the war against the Islamic State.
Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) unveiled a concurrent resolution that draws from authorities granted under the War Powers Resolution that allow lawmakers to force a vote to withdraw U.S. forces from hostilities. Their resolution, which would require the president to pull U.S. troops from Iraq and Syria within 30 days or no later than the end of the year, is an attempt to force a much broader debate on the war itself.
It's been 10 months since the U.S. began bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and Congress still hasn't debated it or voted to authorize it.
During remarks on the House floor, McGovern criticized House leaders for punting on a debate about the duration, costs or endgame of the war as it rages on.
"This is unacceptable," said the Massachusetts Democrat. "This House appears to have no problem sending our uniformed men and women into harm's way. It appears to have no problem spending billions of dollars for the arms, equipment and airpower to carry out these wars. But it just can't bring itself to step up to the plate and take responsibility for these wars."
Aides to McGovern said they notified House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this week about their plans to force the issue. A Boehner spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
"[McGovern] routinely tries to use the War Powers Act to make political points," said one House GOP leadership aide. "The leaders have made clear the president’s AUMF request is unacceptable, but they have not ruled out debating a more robust plan if the president continues to shirk his duties as commander-in-chief.”
President Barack Obama has been directing airstrikes against ISIS since August, and he's been doing so without new congressional authorization. The Constitution requires Congress to declare wars, but in this case, Obama said he doesn't need lawmakers' sign-off because a sweeping 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force covers his actions. Lawmakers have disputed that point for months, so the president sent them a new, Islamic State-specific AUMF proposal in February, saying he welcomed a vote on it, even though he doesn't think he needs it.
Nothing has happened since.
Democrats say Obama's proposal is too broad, Republicans say it's too restrictive, and their differences have given way to complacency. That leaves the U.S. engaged in a military campaign with no clear parameters. The U.S. has already spent more than $2.1 billion, participated in more than 4,000 airstrikes and sent 3,000 military personnel to Iraq in the effort.
By filing the resolution Thursday, McGovern sets a process in motion that puts the measure on the House floor by June 23. He has to wait 15 calendar days for the House Foreign Affairs Committee to act, and if it does nothing, and if House leaders do nothing, the resolution automatically heads to the House floor and anyone can bring it up for a debate. In order to take effect, the resolution has to pass the House and the Senate, but doesn't need a presidential signature.
"If this House doesn't have the stomach to carry out its constitutional duty to debate and authorize this latest war, then we should bring our troops home," McGovern said. "If the cowardly Congress can go home each night to their families and loved ones, then our brave troops should receive the same privilege."
Jones said the issue isn't about being for or against the military campaign against ISIS. It's about Congress playing its constitutional role in matters of war and peace.
"Be for it or against it, but have the debate," said Jones. "It is our responsibility, not the president's responsibility, to initiate these AUMFs."
Despite their inaction on war authorization, House lawmakers did take one related vote: Last month, they voted to authorize Congress to spend tens of billions more on overseas wars.
This story has been updated to include a comment from a House GOP leadership aide.