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GOP Says Obama Must Act First On New ISIS Resolution


For nearly six months, the U.S. has carried out air strikes in Iraq and Syria against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But Congress has yet to authorize that air war. Last week in his State of the Union address, President Obama urged lawmakers to act. But Republicans say its the president to should make the first move. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: President Obama told Congress the time has come for a new authorization for the use of military force, also known as an AUMF.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And tonight I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need (applause) that authority.


WELNA: How badly he wants it, says Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served in the George W. Bush administration, may be quite another matter.

JACK GOLDSMITH: Historically, presidents who have wanted to get an AUMF have actually sent a draft to Congress and fought for it, and this president keeps saying he wants one, but he hasn't done anything to follow through.

WELNA: Obama has been relying on two AUMFs assigned by George W. Bush for fighting the 9/11 perpetrators and invading Iraq. White House press secretary Josh Earnest continues to insist the president has all the authority he needs for fighting the Islamic State. The reason Obama wants a new AUMF, says Earnest, is to show that Democrats and Republicans are united behind a strategy, and he wants members of both parties to help craft a war resolution. Like most GOP lawmakers, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte is not interested.


SEANTOR KELLY AYOTTE: For the Congress to propose what authority we should give the president doesn't seem logical. For the president as the commander-in-chief to say this is why I need this authority and this is what I plan to do with it. That seems to be the proper steps in the process here for foreign policy.

WELNA: And House Speaker John Boehner, when asked about the president's request for a new AUMF, left it up to Obama.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: I would expect the president's going to send an authorization to the Congress. I expect that we will have hearings on that and that we will in fact have a debate and a vote on it at timing yet to be determined.

WELNA: For California House Democrat Adam Schiff, such GOP deference to the president looks highly suspicious.


CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF: It's extraordinarily ironic that this House leadership, which considers the president to be an imperial president to his usurping so much authority from the Congress, is so ready to give the president carte blanche when it comes to making war.

WELNA: The disagreement over who should go first reflects a deeper divide over just what should be in a new war resolution. One issue is who should be targeted. Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says it should not be Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad.


SENATOR TIM KAINE: We ought to have an ISIS-specific authorization and we ought to have an Assad strategy that's separate.

WELNA: John McCain, the Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, disagrees.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: For it to be ISIS-only is of course ludicrous.

WELNA: There's also disagreement over the role the U.S. troops should play. Chris Murphy is a Democratic senator from Connecticut.


SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: Many of us, myself included, believe that we should learn from the Iraq war and put a prohibition on ground troops. We don't need to send our soldiers to fight this fight on the ground. Republicans seem to want to give the president the ability to fight another land war, ground war in Syria and Iraq.

WELNA: They do, says South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, because the effort against the Islamic State won't succeed without U.S. ground forces.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Get over the fact that you can do this without an American ground component. It doesn't have to be 100,000.

WELNA: That may be a moot point for now. Republicans sense little urgency for a new war resolution. Bob Corker is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel.


SENATOR BOB CORKER: It's urgent when you know what it is they want and when they're able to explain a plausible way forward, which they've been unable to do at this point. So when they're able to do that we're ready to act.

WELNA: And when that happens, Congress may belatedly start debating a war no one seems eager to own. David Welna, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.