Last week, as the news surrounding ISIS’s blitz across Iraq began to dominate the headlines and lawmakers stated contemplating authorizing new military action to stem their advance, a number of Democrats were asked if they would support renewed engagement in Iraq. The responses Democratic representatives gave to this question were mixed.
Some, like Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), said that they would support airstrikes in Iraq. Others, including Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), said they would not. Still others, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) insisted that President Barack Obama must come to Congress with any request to use force inside Iraq. “I would strongly recommend that the administration come to Congress very, very soon, and put some options on the table of what we should be able to do,” he said.
It seems like Kaine’s view is rapidly becoming the consensus opinion among congressional Democrats and even some Republicans.
“I think the president has essentially admitted the Iraq AUMF has functionally expired,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told BuzzFeed reporter Kate Nocera. “I think we have over a dozen AUMFs on the books and we need a comprehensive look at which are functional and which are obsolete. The Iraq AUMF is functionally obsolete.”
Murphy was not expressing his opposition to a new resolution authorizing force, but was insisting that a new resolution was required. His qualification enjoys bipartisan support. Murphy’s sentiment was echoed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has said that he “would not rule out airstrikes,” also said that a new resolution to use force in Iraq was called for.
The White House does not seem to agree with Murphy’s logic. Last week, administration members were asserting that Obama can use the existing AUMF in Iraq to authorize strikes, even though they continue to support its repeal. Of course, Obama could simply ignore Congress.
The question of whether Obama can launch military operations against ISIS under existing legal authority remains an open one. In theory, he could invoke Article II of the Constitution, as he did in launching air strikes against Libya in 2011. But that decision caused a firestorm of criticism in Congress, and the administration could face significant bipartisan backlash.
“Alternatively, the administration could invoke the 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force resolution, which has been used in the increased use of drones,” Nocera reported. “But because al Qaeda has broken with ISIS, that could prove difficult.”
It could also prove difficult for the same logic which Murphy applied to the Iraq AUMF. In May of last year, the president delivered a speech in which he recommended that Congress “refine, and ultimately repeal” the 2001 resolution which authorized America’s war against al-Qaeda.
“Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states,” the president said.
Then again, all of this could prove to be an academic exercise. Majority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said on Tuesday that the Obama administration has “authority to do what they need to do” in Iraq.
On Tuesday, the White House announced the president will meet with congressional leaders on Wednesday to discuss Iraq. If Obama does decide to pursue strikes against ISIS militants, that may be the only courtesy that the White House extends to Congress.