House kills measure to force debate on military force against ISIS

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The House defeated an amendment to the annual defense spending bill on Thursday that would have forced Congress to vote on authorizing military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffGrassley wants expanded access to FBI’s Clinton files Top Dem downplays Trump's intel briefing FBI sends Clinton files to Congress MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Congress has a responsibility to debate sending troops into the Middle East to fight ISIS militants.

“It’s worth having Congress do its job,” Schiff said. “If we’re going to ask our service members to risk their lives, we ought to have the courage ourselves to make a vote on this war.”

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His amendment, rejected 196-231, would prohibit the use of funds for the Pentagon military campaign, also known as Operation Inherent Resolve, that conducts airstrikes against ISIS, after March 31, 2016, unless Congress passes an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) that specifically authorizes it.

Congress first authorized $500 million in September for training and arming vetted Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. At the time, lawmakers predicted a formal debate on authorizing military force against the militant group after returning from campaigning from the 2014 midterm elections.

But that never happened. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) later said the White House should submit an AUMF to Congress for review.

President Obama sent Congress a draft AUMF in February, but it has since stalled due to opposition from Democrats who fear the request is too open-ended, along with Republicans concerned it restrains the military campaign. 

Boehner said last month that Obama should withdraw the AUMF and "start over."

The White House has dismissed Boehner's suggestion of going back to the drawing board on a new authorization.

"At some point, the Speaker of the House needs to take responsibility for fulfilling the basic duty of the United States Congress, and that is, when it comes to these kinds of matters, Congress should have a voice. And Congress, frankly, shouldn't be ducking the debate," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

The Obama administration has been using the authority from the 2001 and 2002 authorizations of military force for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to justify the military campaign against ISIS, which did not exist at the start of those conflicts.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, which produced the bill, warned that Schiff’s amendment would eliminate the existing authorities the administration is relying on to combat ISIS.

“This amendment is not about substance, it’s about symbolism. Unfortunately, its effect would be much more than symbolism. Acceptance of this amendment would rob our nation of one of the key authorities our commander in chief relies on to keep us safe,” Frelinghuysen said.

The House rebuffed two amendments late Wednesday night to eliminate funding allocated toward training and arming vetted Syrian rebels and Iraqi forces to combat ISIS. 

Rep. Curt Clawson’s (R-Fla.) amendment to strip out the $600 million allocated to assist vetted Syrian opposition groups and use the money instead to reduce the deficit failed on a vote of 107-323. Another amendment from Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) to do away with the $715 million for equipping Iraqi forces to fight ISIS similarly lost in a 56-375 vote.

As with other individual appropriations bills, the defense measure was considered under a freewheeling process that allows members to offer an unlimited number of amendments. But each amendment was limited to just 10 minutes of debate. 

The open process ultimately worked in Schiff’s favor, as an amendment with such weighty political consequences would likely otherwise never get debate time on the House floor — even if it was for only 10 minutes around 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Two amendments offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to sunset the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs failed to pass, as they have in recent years.

However, Lee did secure a provision in the bill that establishes a nonbinding statement that Congress has a “constitutional duty” to debate whether to authorize the use of military force against ISIS.

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