Congress says it wants to have a role in authorizing Obama’s ongoing war against ISIS. But the White House is using a series of maneuvers to make sure that never happens.
In recent days, leading lawmakers in both parties have been talking tough about forcing the Obama administration to devise and then reveal its strategy to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, as President Obama has promised. There have been public calls for hearings and votes on whether Congress should formally give Obama the authority to do what he’s already doing in Iraq and what he might soon want to do in Syria.
But behind the scenes, there’s no clear plan for Congress to exert its will or even make its wishes known. Lawmakers, staffers, and officials told The Daily Beast that the administration’s refusal to tell anyone its strategy and work with Congress on a bill to authorize military action means the task of passing such a bill is a Sisyphean effort likely to fail. The Hill may not even be able to muster a vote, they say.
“Members will certainly have discussions about the path forward on [ISIS] when they return next week, but how could Congress vote to authorize some action when the president hasn’t even made a compelling case to the American people about what our national objective and strategy should be?” a senior House GOP aide told The Daily Beast.
There’s widespread frustration in both chambers and both parties about President Obama’s admission that “we don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But now the lack of strategy is actually protecting Obama from oversight because Congress can’t authorize or reject what it can’t understand.
In fact, the White House has been totally mum on how it plans to legally justify the air war in Iraq after the temporary authority granted to it in the War Powers Resolution expires. According to the 1973 law, the president must report to Congress when he uses U.S. military force in a hostile environment; Congress must then specifically authorize such action within 60 days or the president has to stop. The president can invoke a one-time, 30-day extension.
But, so far, there have been no substantial consultations with Congress about such an authorization. The White House declined to say whether it even cared if Congress acts or not.
“The administration will continue to consult with the Congress on the way forward in Iraq and our efforts against [ISIS], and we will continue to provide appropriate reports to the Congress consistent with the War Powers Resolution. Beyond that, I don’t have anything to announce. Thanks!” Caitlin Hayden, press secretary for the National Security Council, told The Daily Beast.
The administration has now reported to Congress three times under the War Powers Resolution about U.S. military force in Iraq; the first report was filed Aug. 8 and the most recent was filed Sept. 1. The reports notified Congress that the U.S. was waging war in Iraq for four distinct reasons: to protect American personnel in Erbil; to save the Yazidi minorities trapped on Mount Sinjar; to protect the Mosul Dam; and to save the people of the Shiite town of Amirli.
The War Powers clock expires Oct. 8, with a possible extension to Nov. 8. But the administration could argue that each new notification resets the clock and gives the president ongoing authority to attack in Iraq. To most in Congress, that’s disingenuous at best, because the strikes are all part of the same operation and are all against the same foe in the same country.
“It’s called the War Powers Act, not the Single Attack Powers Act. Technically you are not restarting the 60-day clock,” said a senior Senate aide involved in the debate.
Written by: THE DAILY BEASTof