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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

 2:40 PM 

Column: No legislative embrace for Obama force authorization

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Democrats and Republicans alike have clamored for President Barack Obama to submit a proposed authorization for use of military force against the self-proclaimed Islamic State since it started taking control of chunks of Iraq and Syria last summer, including Sens. Ron Johnson, and Tammy Baldwin.

But when Obama finally did it last week, no one on Capitol Hill seemed content.

Everyone agreed it was too vague and that lawmakers should hold hearings and debate any new authorization. But they generally broke down along party lines about what they disliked in the proposal's ambiguous wording, with Republicans saying it doesn't give a commander-in-chief enough latitude and Democrats worrying it could lead to another protracted war in the region.

Speaking on Fox News, Johnson said he's happy the administration laid down a marker -- something he's been asking it to do since July -- but is concerned that the process is backwards. The first step is for Obama to state a concrete objective and then outline a detailed strategy for achieving it. Only then can Congress debate, draft and vote on an authorization. "What does he mean by 'defeat'" the group also known as ISIS and ISIL?" the Oshkosh Republican asked. "Kill every last one of them? Containment?"

Baldwin in December called on Obama to submit an update to the 2001 and 2002 authorizations he's relied on thus far to engage ISIS without specific congressional approval. She echoed many Democrats in her statement released shortly after the administration transmitted its request to the Senate on Wednesday.

"I'm concerned that the vague language of the administration's draft proposal may leave the door open to putting boots on the ground for combat operations and put the United States at risk of repeating the mistakes of the past and becoming bogged down in an open-ended conflict," the Madison Democrat stated. "I'm also concerned that the draft AUMF would authorize action for three years without establishing measurable goals, benchmarks of success and a clear scope in the battle against ISIL."

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, was measured in his response: "As a Foreign Affairs Committee member, I look forward to reviewing the proposal through hearings, briefings and careful study," he said. "The American people and their representatives in Congress will now have a robust conversation about what our next steps must be­ to defend ourselves from this grave threat."

Johnson was part of a small bipartisan group of senators who met with administration lawyers in late July to discuss drafting a new authorization or even rewriting the War Powers Act. He said the timing was perfect to have a robust debate about both laws and that he would help sell the public on whatever the White House and Congress ultimately came up with so long as Obama took the lead and they all worked together.

"I want something with staying power; I don't think this threat is going away," he said back then. The group "left the ball in the administration's court," he said. It wasn't until the waning days of the 113th Congress, however, before anything was put on paper. Tired of waiting for the White House, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, pushed an authorization through his panel but Congress adjourned before it could come to the floor.

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues

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