No date for ISIS war vote as Congress waits on Obama

A view shows smoke raising from an eastern Kobani neighbourhood, damaged by fighting between ISIS and Kurdish forces, November 18, 2014.

A view shows smoke raising from an eastern Kobani neighbourhood, damaged by fighting between ISIS and Kurdish forces, November 18, 2014.

Congressional authorization of the U.S. war against Islamic State extremists has gone nowhere in the two weeks since President Barack Obama vowed to coordinate with lawmakers on a stronger legal basis for military action, prompting growing frustration with the White House.

Republicans and Democrats say the administration isn’t prioritizing the effort, having yet to outline what it wants from Congress or to dispatch top officials to testify. As a result, congressional aides say, a new authorization to fight the Islamic State won’t happen this year and it’s unclear when it may be taken up in 2015.

“The president is now operating outside the Constitution,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, one of several lawmakers challenging the administration’s legal justification for intervention based on a 2001 authorization to fight al-Qaida and another a year later to invade Iraq.

ISIS didn’t exist at the time of either vote, emerging only recently from the al-Qaida movement. They’ve primarily fought each other since.

After his party’s drubbing in this month’s midterm elections, Obama said he’d work with Congress on a new authorization for the U.S. intervention in Iraq and Syria. The announcement was a nod to widespread dissatisfaction among lawmakers with the status quo even if few, like Schiff, have expressly deemed the military campaign extralegal. Even fewer want the operations halted.

Most Democrats and Republicans who’ve spoken out on the matter want a more limited and clearly defined mandate than the post-9/11 laws initially used in Afghanistan but later cited as justification for drone strikes against terror targets from Somalia and Yemen to Pakistan.

Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for Obama’s National Security Council, said the administration was engaged in conversations with members of both parties.

The delay of congressional authorization won’t immediately affect the American war effort in Iraq and Syria. Obama insists he already has the authority to conduct the counterterrorism mission and U.S. officials haven’t indicated they’d halt military activity if lawmakers vote down any authorization bill.

But the tenuous legal rationale for fighting could become divisive over time on a national security issue both sides say should be apolitical. And for members of Congress who’ve emphasized their constitutional responsibility to declare war, their lack of action more than three months into the U.S. bombing campaign is something of an embarrassment.

 
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