The bipartisan duo leading the charge to have Congress define the military fight against the Islamic State is now starting to smell a rat.
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are crying foul over a recent move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to potentially fast-track consideration of the most expansive, Republican-backed proposal to authorize the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS. They charge the Republican leader is either trying to end-run serious debate or stuff a partisan AUMF down the Senate’s throat.
“It’s either a bypass of the committee, or a ‘don’t worry, we’re not taking it seriously,’” Kaine said in an interview Thursday. “I don’t think either explanation gives me a warm feeling.”
Kaine and Flake have tried to establish themselves as leaders of the effort to get Congress to pass legislation defining how the United States can take on ISIS militarily. The Obama administration says it has the authority now to go after the extremist group based on the war authorizations Congress passed in 2001 for the fight against Al Qaeda and related groups in Afghanistan and in 2002 in advance of the Iraq war.
Both McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) have expressed skepticism that a new AUMF giving the president specific authority to fight ISIS could pass a divided Congress, openly warning that any new resolution should not tie the hands of the next president, who might want to devote more resources to fight ISIS.
Given McConnell’s public statements, his decision earlier this month to use a procedural maneuver, known as Rule 14, that allows him to quickly bring up for a vote war authorization legislation written by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) raised concerns and questions in the Senate.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) this week portrayed the move as a courtesy to Graham and said that if the Senate does decide to seriously consider how to define the military missions against ISIS, his committee will be involved in drafting the proposal.
Aides to McConnell said the procedural maneuver should be read as his endorsement of Graham’s approach, but emphasized that the leader would still defer to the committee for any serious debate if should President Obama approach Congress with a “serious plan” to defeat ISIS.
Corker, along with many other panel Republicans, maintain the administration currently has the authority it needs and that moving a new AUMF now would just feed into election-year political fights rather produce something substantive.
“What I don’t want to do is enter into a debate that’s really more about the presidential race,” Corker said Thursday.
Kaine and Flake aren’t buying that McConnell’s recent move is a benign gesture.
“Whether it was the intent of the leader to bypass the committee, I think that was the effect,” Flake said Thursday. “Hopefully we’ll have an amendment process that allows the committee to put its stamp on what moves to the floor.”
Despite their growing frustration with Senate leaders, Kaine and Flake have not attacked Graham’s proposal directly – they are being careful not to alienate any potential allies in the cause to take up an AUMF.
Graham’s proposal would put no restrictions on the type or duration of the force that may be used against ISIS and it does not repeal any of the standing war authorizations. It is a distant cry from more restrictive Democrat-backed measures and even Kaine and Flake’s bipartisan proposal, which would last only three years and repeal the 2002 AUMF.
Kaine said it is important that any war authorization bill have bipartisan support.
“I’m not aware of war authorizations that have been highly partisan votes. Even the Iraq war – it had a big margin behind it,” Kaine said. “Because of the absence of committee consideration, it will not be as good.”