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Congress Must Use or Lose War Authority

April 27, 2015
Weekly Columns

The increasing boldness that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) continues to display makes it abundantly clear that the president has badly underestimated its resolve to wage jihad against our allies in the Middle East and, eventually, the United States. Considering that the terrorist group has already been responsible for killing Americans and attacking a number of our allies, it should be clearly evident that the United States cannot ignore the escalating conflict.

Several weeks ago, the president finally submitted a request to Congress for authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against this dangerous enemy—a request that was long overdue. The United States Constitution is clear, the authority to make war rests with the Congress, and I have long argued that it is critical for lawmakers to act on that authority. The president has maintained since our disastrous foray into Libya that the authorizations granted to President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 are still valid and give him carte blanche to engage militarily in the region. I reject that contention and believe the vast majority of Americans do as well. In that respect, I appreciate that the president has finally asked Congress to undertake our constitutional responsibility.

Since the president submitted his AUMF request in February, lawmakers in the House have taken the first steps in considering it by conducting hearings in the relevant committees. However, it is important that we continue to move in a swift manner to debate, consider and vote on legislation in response to the president’s request. Unfortunately, opposition on both sides of the aisle has prevented that from happening. 

Certainly, opposition is to be expected, but that shouldn’t delay consideration of the issue or dialogue on the matter. Surprisingly, President Obama lacks support from many within his own party, which essentially makes him a war president without a war party. Many Democrats are leery of any kind of ground mission and prefer not to vote on anything related to war. On the other hand, many Republicans think that the authorization the president is seeking is too limited and does not provide him with the full array of options that any American commander in chief should have at his disposal.

To encourage the process and discussion along, I am joining my colleague Congressman Adam Schiff in sending a bipartisan letter this week to urge action from Speaker John Boehner and House leadership. Each day that we delay real action on the matter is another day that ISIL grows stronger. Congress needs to send a clear message to our enemies and allies alike – when it comes to the barbaric actions of this terrorist organization, we are united and will stop at nothing short of total victory.