Congress was already under pressure to vote on giving President Barack Obama authority to use force in Syria — then the Obama administration started dropping bombs on Monday.
The White House has relied on previous authorizations of force to conduct humanitarian missions earlier in Iraq this summer and targeted strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Now that the president is expanding the U.S. offensive to Syria, a growing number of lawmakers argue Congress is unduly ceding constitutional power to the White House, and they are pushing party leaders to prioritize passing a new Authorization of the Use of Military Force during the lame-duck session.
“It makes it more clear that Congress should act. It’s really turning from what I would characterize as from defense and offense … we’re in another country,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) of the expansion into Syria.
The new strikes in a different country are only emboldening lawmakers’ push for a vote, adding tension with party leaders who are reluctant to open up November to a party-blurring political fight over a war that neither Democrats nor Republicans are eager to have.
But vote proponents argue it’s a divisive discussion that must occur.
Strikes in Syria “should create a real sense of urgency in terms of writing a timely and much narrower AUMF that reflects the challenge that we face today. I don’t think we should be using a decade-plus old authorization of the use of military force to be doing what we’re doing today,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) in an interview.
To underscore how seriously lawmakers are taking the push for a congressional vote during an otherwise dead period on Capitol Hill, consider Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a first-term lawmaker who served as governor and party chairmen. He’s on a media tour de force to raise awareness about what he believes is a congressional duty to vote on the conflict that lawmakers are neglecting. And if it continues, he and Heinrich argue, the White House will garner power in a precedent-defining way that could linger for decades.