WASHINGTON – The top Democrat on the House intelligence panel is introducing a bill Wednesday to authorize President Barack Obama's war against Islamic State militants, saying Congress should not wait to see if the White House sends over its blueprint of what the legislation should say.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he wants to spark the debate in the Republican-controlled Congress over a new authorization to fight IS, which has been fighting for territory in Iraq and Syria.
"We're in what it seems is a never-ending game of who goes first in terms of putting a draft out there — the White House or Congress?" Schiff said. "It's time we moved past this. ... I think the administration is reluctant to put something out there that's going to be shut down by House and Senate leadership."
In the U.S. battle against IS, Obama has been relying on congressional authorizations that President George W. Bush used to justify military action after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Critics say the White House's use of post-9/11 congressional authorizations is a legal stretch, at best.
Obama has insisted that he has the legal authority to send several thousand U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces, and to launch airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria since September. But he said in his State of the Union address that he wanted Congress to pass a new authorization.
Schiff's bill would authorize the use of force against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria for three years, but prohibit the use of ground forces in a combat mission in either of the two nations.
Those provisions conflict with what Secretary of State John Kerry said should be in any new authorization. He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that any new authorization should not limit U.S. military action to just Iraq and Syria or prevent the president from deploying ground troops if he later deems them necessary. Kerry also said that if the new authorization had a time limit, there should be a provision for it to be renewed.
Schiff acknowledged that his bill is not completely aligned with what the White House envisions. But he said that if the president later decided, for instance, to deploy ground troops, there is nothing that would preclude him from returning to Congress to ask for new authority to do that.