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Tim Kaine wants congressional authorization of Iraq airstrikes

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), photographed in April outside the White House. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File)

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Tuesday called on President Obama to seek congressional authorization for ongoing U.S. military air operations in Iraq, especially if military engagement is expected to continue for several weeks or months.

In a statement, Kaine said he welcomes the nomination of Haider al-Abadi to serve as Iraq's next prime minister and the U.S. humanitarian relief mission underway in the country.

But "it is now up to the Administration to receive Congressional authorization for the current air campaign against" the Islamic State, the militant group that has overtaken large parts of Iraq, Kaine said in his statement. "This is especially the case since the President has indicated that our renewed military engagement in Iraq could be a long-term project."

In a letter sent to Congress late Friday, Obama said U.S. military operations in Iraq would be “limited in their scope and duration as necessary to protect American personnel” and to help Iraqi forces aid and rescue besieged minorities.

Kaine is a vocal advocate for overhauling the War Powers Act to better clarify when a president is supposed to seek congressional authorization for military action. Last fall he teamed up with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to revise the law, a move that earned global attention because it came as Obama was seeking congressional approval for military intervention in Syria. Later, Kaine and other lawmakers heralded Obama's decision to seek congressional authority even though he ultimately decided not to intervene in Syria.

In a Washington Post op-ed in June, Kaine wrote that "I’m open to hearing the case for military action in Iraq, but first we need a new playbook." He faulted Obama for failing to work with Congress to update the War Powers Act and urged the White House to "submit to Congress a new draft authorization to deal with today’s threats. Now is clearly the time for this debate."

Read Kaine's full statement issued Tuesday below:

“Iraq is at a crucial juncture that requires all Iraqis to put aside past grievances and unite as a country.  I am encouraged by the steps that have been taken in recent days to build political consensus and welcome the nomination of Dr. Haider al-Abadi to be the next Prime Minister of Iraq. It is important for all Iraqis to foster a peaceful transfer of power and swiftly form an inclusive government, which is essential to combating the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS).  I support additional assistance to a new inclusive Iraqi government as it faces this challenge, including further security assistance to Kurdish forces that are on the frontlines battling IS.

“I support providing humanitarian relief to Iraqi civilians and measures to protect American personnel, but I am concerned about the timeline and scope of our renewed military efforts in Iraq. Since the Administration has conceded that the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force is obsolete and should be repealed, it is now up to the Administration to receive Congressional authorization for the current air campaign against IS.  This is especially the case since the President has indicated that our renewed military engagement in Iraq could be a long-term project. I have long stressed that Congress must formally approve the initiation of significant military action.  It is precisely because of circumstances like these that in January Senator John McCain and I introduced the War Powers Consultation Act of 2014 to clarify the consultation process between the Legislative and Executive branches.

“No one doubts the barbarity of IS and threat it poses to our partners and I will always support the President if he takes action to protect American servicemembers and diplomats.  But the mission and objectives of any military action must be made clear to Congress, the American people, and our men and women in uniform.”

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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