WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday urged President Barack Obama to start from scratch on a measure to legally authorize the Islamic State conflict, declaring "we don't have a strategy."
The White House in February submitted to Congress a draft authorization of the use of military force (AUMF), but members of both parties rejected it, leading many on Capitol Hill to wonder whether it has stalled. The speaker drove yet another nail into the White House draft's coffin Tuesday.
"The president's request for an authorization of the use of military force calls for less authority than he has today. I just think, given the fight that we're in, it's irresponsible," Boehner told reporters. "This is why the president, frankly, should withdraw the authorization of use of military force and start over."
Echoing other prominent GOP lawmakers like Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., Boehner was critical of the president's approach for taking on the violent Sunni group.
"We don't have a strategy," he said. "For over two years now, I've been calling on the president to develop an over-arching strategy to deal with this growing terrorist threat. We don't have one. And the fact is, the threat is growing faster than what we and our allies can do to stop it."
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement he is "deeply disappointed to learn that the speaker has, once again, abdicated responsibility for marking up an authorization for the war against [Islamic State]."
"The reality is that we wait only for the courage to act, and that is not something that can be delivered by pouch from the White House. Nothing prevents the House or Senate from marking up its own version of an AUMF, except a desire to avoid the political consequences of a vote on the war," Schiff said. "At the end of the day, it is the Congress that will suffer from its apathy, as the institution will see its role as a check on the President's war-making authority atrophy beyond recognition."
The White House's AUMF would place limits on what US ground forces could do in Iraq (and beyond), while also.
Republicans and Democrats prefer scrapping or substantially changing the administration's draft. The former says an authorization would handcuff the president and military; the latter says it would fail to not prevent another massive American ground operation in the Middle East.
The Obama administration's measure would prohibit US forces from engaging in "enduring offensive ground combat operations" — but no one on Capitol Hill seems to know what those five words mean when placed in that order and applied to the ongoing military operations.
During public and private meetings, Obama administration witnesses have yet to assuage Democrats, who believe the phrase is too open-ended, or Republicans, who view it as too limiting.
The White House's proposal also would expire in three years, meaning Congress would have to re-authorize the Islamic State conflict in 2018. That provision, however, also is a sticking point.
"A lot of our members," Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is an ally of Boehner, said recently during a C-SPAN interview, "don't like the idea of re-authorization."
Sources on and off the Hill say the two parties — and the White House — likely are too far apart on too many issues important to writing an AUMF to ever get one to the president's desk.
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he hopes that panel can jump-start the AUMF effort.
"After 10 months of the House avoiding the responsibility to even have any meaningful debate on the current war on ISIL," Kains said in a statement, using one of several names for the group, "the speaker's plea for the president to submit a new authorization is clearly an admission that the House cannot initiate discussion of an issue of this magnitude."
"This increases the urgency for the Senate – beginning with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – to take up authorizing language and show that we support our troops who are risking their lives every day," Kaine said. "It is my hope that bipartisan Senate action may inspire prompt House approval as it did when we acted decisively on the Iran Nuclear Review Act."