Flake, Kaine Push for Debate on Anti-ISIL War

Flake, Kaine Push for Debate on Anti-ISIL War
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Sens. Tim Kaine and Jeff Flake are introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that pushes for a congressional say in the U.S. fight against the Islamic State.

The amendment to the NDAA – which authorizes budget authority for the Defense Department and is currently being debated on the Senate floor – does not specify policy points about an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, Kaine said, but rather indicates that it’s the “sense of the Senate” that it should debate and vote on an AUMF against ISIL.

The amendment text says its purpose is to “emphasize the need for a debate about the use of military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” It then lays out some facts regarding the effort to stop the terror group, including that thousands of members of the U.S. armed forces have been deployed to support anti-ISIL operations; that more than 3,400 airstrikes have been conducted thus far; that the U.S. has spent more than $2.6 billion on the operation; and that members of the armed forces and hostages have been killed in the operation.

The amendment “basically just says it is the sense of the Senate that 10 months into this war, we should have a vote on an ISIL-specific authorization,” Kaine told RealClearPolitics. “We don’t include our draft; we just say if we’re voting on, you know, ‘should you put a fire suppression system into a barracks’ … we ought to be voting on whether we’re at war. But we don’t wordsmith it in the NDAA amendment.”

A similar amendment in the House, proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee, says that "Congress has a constitutional duty to debate and determine whether or not to authorize the use of military force against ISIL,” and was added to the fiscal year 2016 Defense Appropriations bill, which the House Appropriations Committee approved last week.

Kaine and Flake are aiming to debate the specific policy of an AUMF through State Department authorization legislation, which is being considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The two introduced an amendment to that bill Monday that details a specific outline for a force authorization, including that the purpose is to “protect the lives of United States citizens and to provide military support to regional partners in their battle to defeat ISIL.”

Kaine and Flake have been two of the most vocal lawmakers pushing for a congressional vote on an AUMF. The White House sent draft legislation to Congress in February, but stark differences between the parties over the language stalled that effort. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker has repeatedly said that because the administration believes it has the authority now to fight the war, debating an AUMF in Congress would not change operations on the ground.

Kaine, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said there were three main points where he and Flake tried to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats: on the use of ground troops, on the status of previous authorizations of force, and on policy in Syria. The amendment states that the use of ground troops is “not consistent” with the purpose of the AUMF, except “to protect the lives of United States citizens from imminent threat.” Kaine said he thought this would be sufficient for Congress in arguing against the use of ground forces.

“It is not as prescriptive as the Dems would like, it is not as open-ended as the [Republicans] would like, and this is our best effort to find something that is bipartisan,” he said.

Kaine emphasized that this new draft was a starting point, rather than an ending point, on the debate for force against ISIL. But, as is stated in the NDAA amendment the two senators are sponsoring, they believe it’s time for Congress to take up action.

"Our military has been waging war against ISIL since last September, and Congress has been appropriating funds to pay for those operations. It's past time for Congress to formally voice its support of the mission itself,” Flake said in a statement Monday. “The U.S. needs a bipartisan foreign policy, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should return to its traditional role in formulating that policy and authorizing these types of foreign engagements."

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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