Guest Editorial

By robert romano  |  SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

No vote on war against Islamic State before election?

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robert romanoThere might be an opportunity to get to a vote on an authorization to use military force against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but not until after the November elections.

That was what House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on September 15.

Instead, the House will take up narrower legislation that would authorize funding and training for Syrian rebels, who Obama intends to act as ground forces in the war against Islamic State.

That bill will not constitute congressional authorization for the war President Barack Obama announced to the nation on September 10.

According to Politico, which received a draft copy of the legislation, it would explicitly say so: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to constitute a specific statutory authorization for the introduction of United States' Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where hostilities are clearly indicated by circumstances."

For his part, House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he is still waiting for the Obama administration to formally ask for authorization.

"Typically, during my 24 years, if that [broader] authorization was requested by the White House, they would make that request and they would offer the resolution. The President has not asked for, nor has he supplied a resolution," Boehner told reporters on September 16 after a meeting of the House Republican Conference.

But Obama has already said he has no intention of seeking congressional authorization.

Because, the Obama administration does not believe any congressional authorization is even necessary for the war. In his September 10 speech, Obama said, "I have the authority to address the threat from [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant]." Obama believes this authority even includes Syria, where the U.S. has never been to war.

Here, the White House is relying on the 2001 authorization to use force against terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks, and the 2002 authorization to use force in Iraq.

An unnamed senior administration official ahead of Obama's September 10 speech said as much, according to the White House website. The official told reporters, "[T]o be clear, we do not believe the President needs that new authorization in order to take sustained action against [Islamic State].  We believe that he can rely on the 2001 AUMF as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing against [Islamic State]."

But neither authority, 2001 or 2002, mentions Syria, which Obama says he intends to attack by air. Nor has the White House made any claim that Islamic State — which was not even in existence in 2001 — was somehow responsible for the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. 

Making the House's decision not to take up the issue now somewhat inexplicable. Here, you have the President denying Congress' duly delegated war-making power under Article I of the Constitution.

Everyone from the New York Times to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) all agree Congress has to act on authorization.  Even Boehner agrees. "I believe it's important for Congress to speak on this issue and I believe that we will," he said.

Just, apparently not until after the election, per McCarthy. Or until Obama asks for a resolution, per Boehner. What if Obama never asks for authority, Mr. Speaker? What then?

Even from a cynical political perspective, a vote on military authorization in Iraq and Syria ahead of the November elections is probably a much tougher vote for congressional Democrats, who opposed the war in Iraq a decade ago and opposed leaving troops there in the aftermath. Voters have a right to know where they, and indeed, representatives of both parties, stand on these critical issues.

The House could force Democrats to vote on military authorization prior to November, but they're going to get a pass? Why? Obama thinks he can go to war whenever he feels like without Congress, and congressional Democrats would rather not vote on this at all. It's a buzz saw for Democrats, so why not make them walk into it?

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.