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Update 2:36 p.m. | NEWARK, Del. — The Democratic senator who holds the seat long occupied by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has put the Obama administration on the verge of victory on the Iran deal.
Sen. Chris Coons announced on the campus of the University of Delaware Tuesday that he would provide the 33rd vote against a resolution of disapproval for the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran. That puts the agreement one vote short of the number needed to sustain a presidential veto.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy wants to ensure U.S. ground forces aren’t sent back into combat in Iraq and Syria in the event a Republican wins the White House next year.
The Connecticut Democrat told CQ Roll Call he was preparing amendments to both the National Defense Authorization Act pending on the Senate floor and the State Department authorization that’s set to be considered Tuesday afternoon by the Foreign Relations Committee to block ground forces in combat roles.
Updated 6:13 p.m. | The efforts to force the Senate into a debate over the use of military force are continuing to grow.
The bipartisan Senate duo of Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., are making a bid to amend the State Department authorization — scheduled to be considered Tuesday afternoon by the Foreign Relations Committee — with language to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Full story
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says despite the failings of the Iraqi army, he won’t be among those calling for a return of U.S. troops to the battlefield.
“I think all we can do at this point is provide the kind of training that should’ve been done on an ongoing basis for the Iraqi military, which especially seems to be throwing down its weapons and running,” McConnell told WGTK radio in Louisville.
“This is a country that’s a pretty big mess, and it could’ve been avoided, at least in Iraq, with a … residual force. That didn’t happen, and now we’re left with trying to help as best we can,” the Kentucky Republican said. “But, in the end, the boots on the ground there are going to have to be local boots on the ground, not ours, to engage in combat to take these areas of Iraq back.”
Regular order means senators have to vote on amendments, and those votes can be rather difficult. And there are no more serious votes than those on war — ones the Senate has been ducking for years.
Take, for instance, a National Defense Authorization Act amendment filed by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq. Or the proposal from Foreign Relations ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland to impose a three-year sunset on the earlier broad authorization enacted after the 9/11 attacks.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle called for action from the White House after the Islamic State terror group’s victory in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s leave-the-ground-fighting-to-locals strategy has been a success “overall,” he hinted there could be tweaks after Ramadi. Full story
Fresh off a trip to the Middle East, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reaffirmed Monday afternoon that his chamber would weigh in legislatively regarding the framework agreement between the United States, Iran and other nations involved in the negotiations.
“Last week I led a Senate delegation to Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Iran’s support of Hezbollah, the Assad regime, Shia militias in Iraq, Houthi insurgents in Yemen — along with its ongoing nuclear ambitions — reveal an ongoing effort to both expand the Iranian sphere of influence throughout the greater Middle East and undermine America’s standing and presence in the region,” McConnell said in a statement. “These issues, along with Iran’s determination to expand its ballistic missile and conventional military capability, are of grave concern to me; moreover, the concerns of our allies and partners were raised throughout our visits.”
Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the first time in the 114th Congress on the State Department’s fiscal 2016 budget request. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Full story
“Lives are in the balance,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin told reporters Tuesday on the importance of getting the balance right in a proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State terror group.
The No. 2 Democrat spoke at length to reporters after being briefed on the draft resolution presented by President Barack Obama’s top aide and counsel during Tuesday’s party lunch.
He detailed the administration’s plans to have a broad-based authorization that would cover the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, without limiting the fight geographically to Syria and Iraq, as well as the key question of limits on offensive ground operations. The Illinois Democrat also is the ranking member of the Defense appropriations subcommittee.
How does this compare with language the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved last year?
Durbin: “The starting point was the [former Foreign Relations Chairman Robert] Menendez language. Made some changes on it. We’re really working with critical, important language, and it comes down to a phrase or two, and we just have to look at it very closely.”
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz. finds it unconstitutional, too restrictive to the commander-in-chief. How do you find common ground? Is a three-year time frame enough comfort?
Durbin: “I like the three-year time frame. It means that it will apply to this president during the remainder of his term and to the succeeding president for one year. What it means: whoever’s elected president after Obama has to start thinking immediately about the renewal of AUMF and discussing it with Congress.
“I disagree with John, obviously. John and I see the world quite a bit differently. I think the Constitution delegates to Congress the authority to declare war, and the American people speak through Congress. And if we put limitations on the president about who he can fight, where he can fight, how he can fight — I think that’s consistent with the intention of the Founding Fathers.”
Is the draft crafted to avoid mission creep?
Durbin: “Well, that’s why we always come back to the same phrase — enduring offensive ground operations. As someone noted in our meeting here, incidentally we’re talking about the Department of Defense. So, there is hardly any military operation that cannot be characterized as a defensive operation, and those are exempt. What we limit are enduring offensive. I hate to get into weeds but when you’re talking about the commitment of a nation to war and lives are in the balance, that’s where we have to really dig in.”
What does the proposal do in terms of the 2002 authorization?
Durbin: “The Afghan AUMF continues, and it’s the Iraq resolution that’s being replaced.”
Would 2001 AUMF also be placed on a three-year timeline?
Durbin: “That wasn’t brought up, and I don’t think that’s the proposal.”
Do you have concerns the White House draft would change the Senate Foreign Affairs version with regard to geographic limits?
Durbin: “See now that’s tricky. So, here’s why it’s tricky: If we limit our actions against ISIS to any locale, it really means by argument that there are safe havens they can go to and escape pursuit by the United States. I understand that. We’ve got to be able to pursue non-state, multinational operations wherever they threaten the United States or our interests.”
Are you comfortable with specifics tailoring to Islamic State? The associated forces phrase was very problematic in 2001.
Durbin: “It is still. It is still. They’re hard to pin down. If you had asked us three years ago, ‘What about the Islamic State?’ people would have opposed, [questioning] ‘What is it?’ That just shows you how quickly the circumstances and names can change. So we’ve got to give enough flexibility to have the next generation of ISIS also in our target.”
Both parties have said they want to see significant changes to what the president is suggesting but in opposite directions. How does bipartisan compromise happen and how long will it take?
Durbin: “I don’t know the answer to that because we have not really taken a task like this on in a long, long time. The last time we came close to it was the decision to invade Iraq, where there was a lot of debate, back and forth, Democrats and Republicans. It was [then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.] and it was the Republicans who were stepping up with their own views of things. I assume it starts, the first venue is the Foreign Relations Committee, but beyond that it clearly is going to be a subject for floor debate.”
Debate on war hasn’t taken place in a decade. Why has it been so delayed when we’re already in the war and months of work is expected?
Durbin: “It is not easy but it’s important. And I hope all members of both political parties will accept their responsibility. This is one of those things where we know lives are at stake – American lives as well as the survival of our enemy. So we’ve got to take the time to get it right but we shouldn’t delay it in petty politics.”
Congress is gearing up — belatedly — for a full-throated war debate that will serve as a proving ground for potential presidential candidates heading into 2016.
With a draft Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State terror group expected on Capitol Hill by the middle of the week, as lawmakers complete work before a weeklong Presidents Day recess, the debate over how much authority to give President Barack Obama will soon take center stage.
The issue will provide opportunities for jockeying among those senators seeking their party’s nomination for president, including Lindsey Graham, who recently announced his intention to explore the possibilities.
The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee thinks the current Congress should stick around long enough to consider an Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State, and he’s reiterating that as the Senate wraps up its work.
Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., moved a use of force resolution through his committee Thursday, and then filed it as an amendment to one of the last trains leaving the station this year — the catchall “cromnibus” spending bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has already used the procedural tools at his disposal to prevent amendments, but senators frequently file them anyway for messaging effect. Full story
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a 2 p.m. hearing on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force in the United States’ war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Secretary of State John Kerry will testify.
Secretary of State John Kerry warned Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein Friday about the possible impact of her committee’s imminent CIA torture report on American hostages and the war on ISIS.
“He called his former colleague to discuss the broader implications of the timing of the report’s release because a lot is going on in the world, and he wanted to make sure that foreign policy implications were being appropriately factored into timing. These include our ongoing efforts against ISIL and the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “That anyone would mischaracterize this call or question reasonable, proper, private discussions raises questions about what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Feinstein, a California Democrat, said Thursday that she had reached agreement with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on remaining redaction issues and that the report for public release was being printed.
Leaving Wednesday’s closed briefing on the fight against the Islamic State, the terror group also known as ISIS or ISIL, Sen. John McCain said he doubted the Obama administration really wanted to have a new Authorization for Use of Military Force at all.
“They keep talking about the AUMF. They haven’t, they haven’t sent over anything. I’ve been involved in numerous of these crises where they send over a request for the authorization for the use of military force,” the Arizona Republican said. “You can’t believe they really want it if they don’t even send over a proposal.”
The senator leading a push to authorize the war against ISIS after the elections wants an intelligence briefing first, so lawmakers know the full extent of the covert operations already under way.
Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez aired his frustrations last week when Secretary of State John Kerry came to testify before his old committee about the administration’s plans to fight the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., asked about published reports of covert efforts to train Syrian rebels.
“I know it’s been written about in the public domain, that there is, quote, ‘a covert operation.’ But … I can’t confirm or deny whatever that’s been written about and I can’t really go into any kind of possible program,” Kerry responded.
That prompted Menendez to chime in shortly afterward, saying the committee’s inability to get access to information about covert operations was an issue with both the Obama administration and the Senate itself. He questioned how the panel could properly draft a new Authorization for Use of Military Force without such details. Full story