Lawmakers skeptical of White House’s ISIS plan, but few want a vote

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As President Obama prepares an offensive strategy against Islamic militants, some on Capitol Hill are downplaying expectations of sweeping new military actions in Iraq or Syria.

For lawmakers, the tough politics of war may limit how much support the White House will receive in Congress as the president addresses the nation Wednesday.

The understanding on Capitol Hill is that the administration will not launch a military offensive that would require new congressional authorization.


More likely, the administration will continue the aerial military strikes already underway on key strongholds in Iraq, and could begin similar bombing in Syria, some on the Hill believe.

Congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with the president for a briefing at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

While members of Congress are eager to debate the White House’s strategy against the militant group Islamic State, most are loathe to put their names to a vote -- especially weeks before a very tight midterm election that will determine which party controls Congress.

After conversations over the last week, “the White House is aware there really is no appetite for a vote,” said one senior congressional aide, who was not authorized to to discuss the deliberations.

Without new authority from Congress, the question becomes how far the administration can take the campaign against the militants also known as ISIS, the acronym for its former name, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Bolder action in Syria would be welcome by Republican defense hawks, and some moderate-leaning Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the home state of the slain journalist Steven J. Sotloff, who was held captive by the militants.


“We’re going to have to deal with them, not only in Iraq, where we are now, but elsewhere,” Nelson said Monday in the Senate. “As the president has already indicated, this is going to be a long-term kind of operation.”

A protracted battle is far from what many Americans say they want. Even if the president decides to seek congressional approval for a robust military campaign, it is not clear that reluctant lawmakers would give it.

“Here’s the dilemma: What if he comes over here and you can’t pass it?” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) “That’d be a disaster. And what if you put so many conditions on it that it makes any military operation ineffective? That’s what I worry about.”

A coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans would likely block such a vote, and those in difficult reelection battles would prefer not to be boxed into a complicated foreign policy issue before the election.

But some are still pushing Obama to seek congressional approval.

“The Constitution is clear: It is the Congress and Congress only that has the constitutional authority to declare war,” said tea party Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who called it “inconsistent” for the president to pursue action without legislative support.

Even funding an extended military campaign may be a tough sell for Congress. An estimated $5 billion for overseas operations, including counter-terrorism, is being included in an annual must-pass defense bill. But it remains uncertain whether Congress would approve those funds -- or a portion of them -- during the short two-week session.


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