Should Senate leaders approve coming legislation to authorize US military strikes in Syria, a vote might have to wait until after November’s midterm elections.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., announced Tuesday evening that he intends to introduce an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) to cover any Syria strikes President Barack Obama might order.
“This will ensure there’s no question that the President has the legal authority he needs to use airstrikes in Syria,” Nelson said in a statement. “Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty.”
Legal experts and a growing number of lawmakers from both parties question whether a broadly worded AUMF targeting al-Qaida and the Taliban and passed after the 9/11 attacks would cover strikes in Syria on Islamic State targets.
Nelson said it is unclear if “the [Obama] administration has clear legal authority, independent of Congress, to broaden the air campaign to strike targets in Syria.”
The veteran senator, and potential Florida gubernatorial candidate, signaled his coming measure “would end any such questions in political and national security circles.”
Nelson has yet to make clear if his Syria measure would be a stand-alone bill or offered as an amendment to another piece of legislation the chamber might act on before or after the November congressional elections.
The House also would have to approve and Syria AUMF; but the lower chamber is planning to return next week for a brief 12-day September session. Then it’s another recess period to allow members to focus on the campaign trail.
The Senate is expected to stick around a little longer, but only by a week or so.
And, one expert says, that makes passage of Nelson’s bill — or one like it — a tough task to accomplish this month.
“It seems the calendar is working against authorization right now,” said Mieke Eoyang, director of the national security program at Third Way, a Washington think tank.