House Dem eyes strategy to force ISIS vote

A liberal Democrat is eyeing ways to force a vote on whether Congress should authorize President Obama's action against Islamic militants in the Middle East.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said Tuesday that, if GOP leaders don't plan a vote on legislation explicitly empowering Obama to sustain combat operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he might use a procedural gambit to compel that debate before year's end.

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"If there's no commitment that there's going to be a debate, a vote, you know, we might want to think about a privileged resolution … as we look toward the lame-duck session," McGovern said Tuesday.

"We have boots on the ground, even though everybody says we don't want any boots on the ground. We're doing more than just protecting U.S. personnel on the ground. And when I read the newspapers, we're talking about a multi-year commitment," McGovern added. "So there's a role for Congress in this, and we need to make sure that we don't … shirk our constitutional responsibility. And I think most people feel that way."

In July, McGovern had tapped the same privileged resolution procedure to force a House vote on a non-binding resolution stipulating that Obama "shall not deploy or maintain" U.S. forces "in a sustained combat role in Iraq without specific statutory authorization for such use."

The measure passed easily, 370 to 40.

"We had this vote in July that said if we have sustained combat in Iraq that we ought to have a vote," McGovern said Tuesday. "We have sustained combat in Iraq."

Still, heading into November's midterms, congressional leaders from both parties have shown no eagerness to stage a politically fraught use-of-force vote ahead of those elections.

"My own view is that what he's doing is not tantamount to war," Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday morning.

McGovern noted that, because the rules governing a privileged resolution require 15 calendar days for the measure to ripen — and because the House is expected to recess on Sept. 19 — he doesn't have time to force floor action this month. But an opportunity might present itself when Congress returns after the elections — depending on how long the lame-duck session lasts.

"I have no idea how long we're going to be here then," he said. "But the idea that we don't want to talk about this because it's politically inconvenient just, I think, is inexcusable."

McGovern said he has "no idea" where the votes would fall on such a proposal. But "some things trump politics," he added, "and whether or not we're going to get into another war, I think, is worth us debating and voting on."

Obama, who met with congressional leaders Tuesday afternoon to lay out his strategy for confronting the ISIS militants, is poised to outline those plans publicly in a prime-time address to the nation Wednesday night.

Administration officials are also scheduled to brief lawmakers in both chambers on Wednesday and Thursday in the Capitol.

Many lawmakers from both parties are eagerly awaiting Obama's plans before committing to Congress's role in the fight.

In the eyes of McGovern, though, the process of having Congress weigh in is long overdue.

"We should have had this vote in July," he said.