WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama maintains that he doesn't need congressional approval before engaging the nation's armed forces in Iraq. But progressives on Capitol Hill think Congress should weigh in anyway -- especially given the possibility of a risky, open-ended mission that is expected to last well beyond Obama's last day in office.
Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, introduced a nonbinding resolution on Thursday urging Congress to vote to authorize military force for "any sustained United States combat role in Iraq or Syria." The measure ought to be "narrowly tailored and limited," include "robust" reporting requirements, and explicitly prohibit the deployment of ground troops in the region (which the president has verbally said would be the case).
The Obama administration maintains that the president already has the requisite authority to take military action against Islamic State extremists in the Middle East. Administration officials argue that because the Islamic State is merely an outgrowth of al Qaeda, airstrikes against it are covered under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which permitted the U.S. to go to war against al Qaeda. "By trying to change its name, it doesn't change who it is," Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday on CNN.
But the CPC disagrees. The 2001 AUMF "should not apply to ISIS because ISIS has no operational connection to al Qaeda or the Taliban and is not currently considered an 'associated force' of al Qaeda," the caucus' resolution reads. Indeed, al Qaeda formally dissociated itself from its onetime affiliate earlier this summer.
Outside of the progressive caucus, Obama's announced strategy received mixed reactions on Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agree with the president, as does a large swath of Republicans on the Hill. Some vulnerable Senate Democrats, however, disagree, as does Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a more cautious response, telling reporters on Thursday that while "it would be in the nation's interest" for Congress to have a say, traditionally a president must first ask for it.
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Thursday, Grijalva dismissed the administration's argument that the 2001 AUMF provides sufficient legal basis for going to war. "Put the thread to the needle as much as you want. The fact that remains is that this is an escalation beyond that original resolution. The whole network that’s developed there, it's too big of a thread to the needle," he said.
Grijalva mocked Republicans who have previously criticized Obama for overreaching his executive authority on immigration and the Affordable Care Act, but now don't take issue with his decision to wage war without congressional authorization. "Here to me is a very object example of where Congress needs to step in," Grijalva said.
He also said that he hoped the CPC resolution would spur further debate in Congress to avoid repeating the costly mistakes that have haunted America for over a decade.
"We don’t want to do [George W.] Bush -- shoot first and ask questions later. We’ve already seen that movie, it didn’t work out for us," he said. "So, before we make a commitment, to go into Syria, to go into Iraq ... [we need] to have a robust debate, and maybe through that debate, we begin to modify the president's request and put some control points into it."