WASHINGTON — Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker struck a dour tone Tuesday about his panel taking up a measure to authorize the Islamic State conflict.
"I certainly am open to looking at it," Corker told reporters. "If I see that there's a path forward to success, then — and I'm beginning to have some conversations again about it — then we'll take it up."
Corker could craft a measure and push it through committee on a party line vote. Republicans now control the committee with 10 members to Democrats' nine. But the chairman is leery that would send a negative signal to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, and US allies.
"There's no Democratic support for what the president has sent over," he said of a version of authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State crafted by the White House. "What I don't want to do is send a message to our allies or our enemies that somehow the nation is divided over ISIS — because [it's] not."
Corker long has been an advocate of Congress passing an AUMF tailored for the violent Sunni group. The Obama administration says it "welcomes" a new measure, but believes the AUMF passed after the 9/11 attacks gives it all the legal cover it needs for ongoing US military operations in Iraq and Syria.
"Every one of the administration's witnesses says they're already legally conducting what they're conducting," Corker said.
"What's made it difficult is that everyone knows that regardless of what we do on AUMF, it's not going to change anything whatsoever on the ground," the typically deal-making senator said in his Tennessee drawl. "I try to deal with things that try to generate an outcome."
Moments earlier, Foreign Relations Committee member Tim Kaine, D-Va., told reporters of a new AUMF: "It's not dead in Foreign Relations.
"It's fundamentally about we have troops that are in harms way," Kaine said. "What are [Republicans] going to say, 'We don't care about the troops?' It's like telling the troops, 'We don't care — you can risk your lives but we're not going to do our jobs.'"
"You hear folks in the House say that," Kaine said. "None of my colleagues here [in the Senate] say that because we've got troops risking their lives."
Kaine was referring to recent comments by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., declaring dead the White House's draft AUMF.
Corker reiterated that he will at least test the force-authorization waters in the coming weeks.
"I've made a commitment to begin discussions and then we would take it up if I can see a pathway forward," he said.
The panel late last year, while New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez still held the gavel, approved a version of an AUMF that he crafted. It passed 10-8, with only Democrats voting in favor.
That measure would have slapped restrictions on the kinds of operations US military forces could do against the group.
Menendez's version would have covered the use of American ground troops to rescue other US forces or citizens, as well as to conduct missions like intelligence collection, enabling "kinetic strikes" and providing "other forms of advice and assistance to forces fighting [the Islamic State] in Iraq or Syria."
That now-dead version also included a provision crafted by Ben Cardin, D-Md., now ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, that would have nixed in three years the AUMF for operations against al-Qaida that passed in September 2001.