The White House on Friday said it is concerned that a Senate measure on the use of force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would tie the president's hands, including restrictions on the deployment of ground troops.
The legislation, which cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committeee in a 10-8 vote with majority Democratic support, would not allow ground combat operations, except to protect or rescue U.S. soldiers and citizens. It also includes provisions allowing American troops to conduct intelligence operations, provide advice and assistance, or coordinate airstrikes from the ground.
Earnest said President Obama does "not foresee a scenario and does not support sending ground troops in a combat role into Iraq or in Syria," but that he wanted to preserve that ability in case of emergency. Earnest cited a special forces raid earlier this year in Syria in an attempt to free American hostages held by ISIS.
"That’s an indication of the need for the commander in chief to have flexibility to protect our national security interests," Earnest said. "That does not reflect a change in policy, but does reflect a need for the commander in chief to have the kind of flexibility to respond to situations that, frankly, right now are impossible to foresee."
Earnest also said the White House was concerned by language that would put a three-year limitation on the authorization. The press secretary said the White House would support that limit if provisions for extension were built in — which could allow the bill to renew without requiring another vote.
Still, the White House described the bill as "a useful starting point for negotiations about what that language should look like," and expressed optimism the legislation would be taken up by Republicans in Congress.
The White House has asked Congress to overhaul existing legislation, passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, which allows the president to order action against those responsible or aiding those responsible for the attacks.
Some lawmakers have questioned whether the legislation gives Obama authority to attack ISIS — which grew out of but ultimately separated from al Qaeda — and the president had previously said he wanted to repeal the post-9/11 authorizations.
"We certainly are eager to have that kind of bipartisan show of support for the strategy, and we’re going to be working on that at the beginning of next year," Earnest said.