Bipartisan push in Senate for war powers after Paris attacks

To fight IS, Obama has been relying on congressional authorizations

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks in Orlando, Fla. The Paris attacks have given new impetus to a bipartisan push to approve new war powers to fight Islamic State militants while also underscoring the unwillingness of many in Congress to cast the first war vote in 13 years. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Paris attacks have given new impetus to a bipartisan push to approve new war powers to fight Islamic State militants while also underscoring the unwillingness of many in Congress to cast the first war vote in 13 years.

Many lawmakers remain reluctant to vote on legislation giving President Barack Obama new authority to fight IS. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says the White House already has the legal authorization it needs to combat the extremists.

To fight IS, Obama has been relying on congressional authorizations given to President George W. Bush for the war on al-Qaida and the invasion of Iraq. Critics say the White House’s use of post-9/11 congressional authorizations is a legal stretch at best. And they note that the battle has grown exponentially.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, said Wednesday he plans to introduce, after the Thanksgiving recess, a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, against IS militants responsible for last week’s bombings that killed 129 in Paris.

Graham’s legislation would not put any time or geographic restraints on the U.S. military or intelligence services’ battle against IS, authorizing the U.S. to take the fight anywhere for as long as necessary. The bill would allow the deployment of U.S. ground troops to fight IS. It also would not restrict the United States in working to disrupt the militants’ recruiting efforts, propaganda and communications.

“We must allow this president and every future president to do whatever is necessary to destroy IS before they hit us here at home,” Graham said. “This authorization will mirror the approach we took against al-Qaida after 9/11.”

Earlier this week, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., spoke on the Senate floor to call for a new AUMF in the wake of attacks in Paris and in Beirut. On Nov. 12, two powerful suicide bombings tore through a crowded Shiite neighborhood of Beirut, killing 43 people and wounding more than 200 others. IS claimed responsibility.

Flake argued that the campaign to destroy IS warrants its own specific authorization because of its size and the growing role of the U.S. military in combating the group.

In June, Flake and Kaine introduced a bill authorizing the president to use U.S. Special Forces for three years against IS and associated persons or forces. The bill was meant to repeal and replace the 14-year-old 2001 AUMF passed after 9/11.

Obama, traveling overseas, ridiculed Congress for failing to come up with legislation authorizing the use of military force in Syria that he has been seeking for months.

In February, the administration proposed a three-year authorization to fight IS, unrestricted by national borders. The fight could be extended to any “closely related successor entity” to the IS extremists, but the measure did not authorize large-scale ground operations.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has called Obama’s proposal “nonsense,” saying the White House knew it would get no real support in Congress.

After Obama sent over his draft of a new AUMF, 30 members of the House asked then-Speaker John Boehner to bring it up for debate and a vote. Instead, Boehner suggested the president rip it up and start over.

Reluctance to vote runs deep and many in Congress prefer to criticize Obama’s policy in Iraq and Syria without either authorizing or stopping the fight so they cannot be held politically accountable. The vote in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq was politically perilous for many lawmakers — and is shadowing 2016 presidential candidates today.

At a weekend Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been dogged by her vote in favor of the Iraq war, said she believes that the 9/11 war powers gives Obama the legal authorization to fight IS. But, she added, “I would like to see it updated.”

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