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Hoyer: War resolution debate should be held after November elections

File: Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday there is growing momentum for Congress to hold an expansive war debate after the Nov. 4 elections to give a greater legislative imprint on President Obama's conduct of attacks against the Islamic State.

Hoyer said that Congress should take a "two-step process" to handle the issue, first approving a modest proposal that would allow Pentagon officials to train and arm pro-western Syrian rebels to fight against Islamic State forces that control portions of that country and Iraq. Later this year, however, the lame-duck session would provide time for expansive debate and resolutions providing clear war language setting new parameters for U.S. military forces carrying out the attacks, he said.

“I think at some point in time, when we come back from the elections, I think there will be a consideration of a larger authorization for the use of force," Hoyer said in an interview on C-Span's "Newsmakers" program, which will air in full Sunday.

He became the highest-ranking official to suggest a full war debate will take place, as House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader (D-Calif.) have sidestepped the issue. For now, those leaders have only promised to win bipartisan approval of the narrow request for aiding rebels to fight Islamic State forces.

“I think many of those members also believe that we ought to have a vote before the end of the year on the authorization of the use of military force, so that the Congress can speak and represent the views of the American people," Hoyer said.

Such a plan would create the unusual scenario in which the departing 113th Congress -- complete with dozens of lawmakers leaving office either through retirement or loss in the November midterms -- would be approving something tantamount to a war resolution, just before a new Congress took the oath of office in January. The two most recent use-of-force resolutions have been passed under different circumstances.

In the fall of 1990, the first Bush White House campaigned for approval to oust Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait, before and after those midterm elections, but did not win the votes until January 1991 when the new Congress had taken office. In 2002, the second Bush White House took the opposite approach, pushing for and receiving votes in the House and Senate in October just weeks before the midterm elections.

Hoyer said that timing after the midterms would allow lawmakers and candidates for office to hear from voters, leading to a more sound judgment. "I think you’re going to see a very robust discussion of exactly that exact issue, among the American people, and that after the election, we’ll come back into session better informed of the public’s view and our constituents attitude about what they think ought to be done," he said.

Earlier, Boehner left the door open to considering a broader debate but said it would be up to the president to request such authority. "Normally, in such a case -- I’ve been through this a few times over the 24 years that I’ve been here -- the president of the United States would request that support and would supply the wording of a resolution to authorize this force," he told reporters at his weekly briefing.

"There may be a need for a vote. We do not believe we have reached that point," Pelosi told reporters just before Boehner spoke.

Reid sounded the least optimistic of holding an expansive war debate. "We have a lot of things that we’re going to take a look at here. And this isn’t the time to start speculating on what if. What we need to do is make sure that we can take care of what we need to do, and that is train and equip the rebels and make sure that we don’t do anything that is rash. We have to be very calm and deliberate," he told reporters.