The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday voted to authorize President Obama's war against the Islamic State group -- the first vote in Congress to explicitly grant him war powers in the U.S. battle against the militant extremists.
The vote was 10-8, with most Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.
The committee chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said he would seek a full Senate vote on the measure before the current Congress ends, but it's more likely that the authorization will be delayed until the next, Republican-led Congress, which starts Jan. 1.
In the U.S. battle against IS, Obama has been relying on congressional authorizations that former President George W. Bush used to justify military action after 9/11. Critics say the White House's use of post-9/11 congressional authorizations is a legal stretch, at best. Obama has insisted that he had the legal authority to send about 3,000 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces, and launch 1,100 airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria since September. More recently, the president has said that he wants a new authorization for use of military force.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said whatever new authorization Congress passes should not limit U.S. military action to Iraq and Syria or prevent the president from deploying ground troops if he later deems them necessary. He also said that if the new authorization had a time limit, there should be a provision for it to be renewed.
Menendez' resolution, which was passed, would authorize the president to use military force against IS and associated persons or forces -- individuals fighting for or on behalf of IS. It would limit the activities of U.S. forces so that there would be no large-scale ground combat operations. Menendez has said that if the president feels he needs that, then he should ask Congress for authorization to do that.
The authorization would be limited to three years and would require the administration to report on the fight against IS every 60 days. He said a three-year time limit would allow Obama and the next president time to assess the situation and make decisions about whether and how to continue military action against IS.
The authorization would not allow ground combat operations, except as necessary to protect or rescue U.S. soldiers or citizens, conduct intelligence operations, spotters to help with airstrikes, operational planning or other forms of advice and assistance.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the incoming chairman of the committee, said he respected the chairman's effort to get an authorization passed, but that he could not support it. He suggested the committee look to the first of the year, and a new Congress, to take up the issue again.
He said Congress and the administration should coordinate on an authorization that would better track the United States' approach to fighting IS -- something that he thinks any member of the committee would be hard-pressed at this stage to define.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., supported the resolution, saying Congress cannot sit back and do nothing "in response to this evil."
"When it comes to human rights abuses, they (Islamic State militants) are in a class of their own," she said.
But she also does not support an authorization that would allow U.S. ground forces to fight IS.
"I draw the line in the sand as far as another ground war," she said.
The committee also approved language that would require Congress to reauthorize in three years America's war against al-Qaida, which has been going on since 2001.