Congress next week will begin scrutinizing a White House war powers measure, a process senior members say largely will focus on three contentious issues.
The Obama administration last week sent a draft authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to Capitol Hill that would place limits on US ground forces, allow the executive branch to go after the Islamic State anywhere it deems necessary and limit US operations to three years. It also would sunset the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq war, while leaving a post-9/11 authorization on the books.
Each of those issues has a distinct set of proponents and critics on Capitol Hill, where both chambers eventually would have to approve the same version of an Islamic State AUMF.
But a series of interviews with senators involved in previous AUMF processes and who will play a role in this one show the coming debate will mostly be about whether or not to put limits on American ground troops and the White House’s strategy, and what to do about the old authorization measures.
The legislation proposed by the White House would “not authorize the use of the United States armed forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.”
In an accompanying letter to lawmakers, President Barack Obama stated his draft AUMF “would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our Nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“Local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations,” Obama wrote, adding his version proposes “the flexibility” for US ground forces to do “limited” missions.
In an interview before the Presidents Day recess, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., called that language “the singular issue” that lawmakers must examine.
“The definition of what that is is problematic,” he told CongressWatch.
There is no consensus among lawmakers about what constitutes an “enduring offensive ground combat operation,” nor whether an AUMF should limit a president’s constitutional authority to launch one, nor about who would determine when that threshold has been reached.