© Greg Nash
President Obama's decision to send U.S. troops into Syria is reigniting the debate in Congress over long-stalled legislation authorizing the war.
The administration announced Friday that it would send approximately 50 special operations troops into Syria in an advisory role, putting U.S. boots on the ground in the country for the first time since the country's civil war began.
Democrats pounced on the decision, suggesting that it underscores the need for Congress to take up and pass an authorization for use of force (AUMF), which could also place boundaries on military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"Regardless of my views, the War Powers Resolution requires Congress to debate and authorize the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said, calling the administration's decision to send troops into the country a "mistake."
Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichWhat we learned from Rick Perry's confirmation hearing Senators introduce dueling miners bills Interior pick walks fine line on climate, highlights conservation MORE (D-N.M.) struck a similar tone in a letter to Obama Friday, adding that "the lack of will from Congress to vote on a new AUMF amounts to a total dereliction of its duties and responsibilities."
Lawmakers have struggled for months to overcome the wide divisions on a war bill. The issue has created splits between and within the Republican and Democratic parties.
While Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerHaley ready for UN role despite dearth of foreign policy experience Top Dem: Don’t bring Tillerson floor vote if he doesn’t pass committee Trump’s UN pick threads needle on Russia, NATO MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinSchumer, Cardin to introduce legislation on Russia sanctions Lawmakers join women's marches in DC and nationwide Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era MORE (D-Md.) pledged earlier this year to try to find common ground, members of the committee have made little progress, partially because the issue had been overshadowed by Congress's debate on Iran.
An AUMF proposal that the administration submitted to lawmakers earlier this year sparked concerns from both parties over language banning any "enduring offensive ground combat operations." While Republicans feared the language could tie the hands of the military, Democrats worried it would be vague enough to create legal backing for an open-ended ground war.
Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphyGOP, Dems hear different things from Trump Live coverage of Trump's inauguration Dem senator: DeVos ‘sends shivers down the spine’ MORE (D-Conn.), who has called for banning ground troops from combat roles in Syria, said Friday that an AUMF passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014 "specifically banned the presence of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria."
“The bottom line is that it is well past time for Congress to do our constitutional duty and debate an authorization for the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria," he added, using an alternative acronym for ISIS. "I hope that in the shadow of this new escalation, Congress will do its job and debate and pass an authorization to give legal standing to the administration’s fight against ISIL.”
Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsTrump, Democrats can bridge divide to make college more affordable Senate Dems urge Sessions to abstain from voting on Trump’s Cabinet picks Booker to vote against Tillerson MORE (D-Del.) acknowledged the uphill battle to passing legislation, citing a "very sharply divided and very partisan Congress."
"Well there's a lot of folks … who don't think we can pull together an authorization across the very big differences," he told MSNBC on Friday.
Aside from floor speeches by Sens. Tim KaineTim KaineDecaying DC bridge puts spotlight on Trump plan Booker to vote against Tillerson Senate Democrats brace for Trump era MORE (D-Va.) and Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeGOP eyes new push to break up California court Live coverage of Trump's inauguration Under Trump, the disruptors return to Washington (that's a good thing) MORE (R-Ariz.), who have been leading advocates for congressional action on a war powers bill, debate over an AUMF has been largely absent in the Senate.
Kaine reiterated his position Friday, saying that "it is time for Congress to do its most solemn job, to debate and declare war."
The Virginia Democrat told The Hill earlier this month that while his colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee increasingly acknowledged that legislation needed to be passed, there were few signs of action.
Underscoring the political differences, Republicans largely focused on the need for a strategy from Obama in the wake of Friday's announcement.
"We need a comprehensive strategy that will actually achieve our goal of defeating ISIS," Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonOvernight Healthcare: GOP governors defend Medicaid expansion GOP senator: Let's work with Dems to 'fix' ObamaCare Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power MORE (R-Wis.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said. He also suggested earlier this year that the Senate wouldn't pass a war bill until after Obama left office.
In the House, lawmakers defeated a push by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) earlier this year that would have required removal of troops from Iraq and Syria within 30 days. The move was part of an effort by McGovern to either remove troops or force Congress to pass legislation authorizing the war.
McGovern said Friday that Americans want to know that Washington has "a clear plan to bring this conflict to a peaceful end," adding that "this starts with Congress doing its job and voting on an AUMF."