Pelosi: Obama has authority to go after ISIS

Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday defended President Obama's expansion of force against Islamic militants, insisting that he has the legal authority to confront the threat without congressional approval.

"Yes, I think that the Congress has a role," she said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "What the president is doing now, though, I think he has the legal authority to do.

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“I know he does,” she continued. “I've studied this issue for a really long time."

A number of liberal Democrats — backed by some conservative Republicans — argue that U.S. operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have already reached a point where congressional approval is required of the administration.

"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," Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) told The Hill this week.

"So there's a role for Congress in this, and we need to make sure that we don't … shirk our constitutional responsibility."

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) echoed that message on Thursday.

"As far as I'm concerned, the only way that we should engage a war against ISIL is for Congress to declare war," Broun said, using an alternate name for the group. "Constitutionally, that's the only authority that we have. I'm not in favor of authorization for use of military force; I'm in favor of us making a declaration of war, and going forward that way."

Addressing the nation Wednesday night, Obama vowed to go after the Islamic terrorists "wherever they are" with a combination of expanded airstrikes and increased coordination with forces of local allies.

“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, [ISIS] through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” Obama said. 

In July, the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution, sponsored by McGovern, 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 370-40.

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

But Pelosi said Thursday that U.S. operations have not reached the point that would trigger the vote endorsed by the McGovern resolution.

"Whether we take a vote or not, we're not at that point because we believe the president has the authority," Pelosi said, acknowledging the McGovern proposal.

"Hopefully, we don't have to go beyond what the president is doing now, [and] we don't need that vote. But we stand ready to have that discussion."

Pelosi is urging a quick vote on granting Obama the more limited authority to arm and train Syrian rebels battling ISIS — an issue that has delayed movement of the Republicans' continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government into December.

"I hope that it would be in this CR, because that's the train leaving the station," Pelosi said. "The president needs this to happen." 

Pelosi also warned that, whatever new strategy Obama adopts, would be futile without the establishment of a stable Iraqi government.

"The government has to work, or otherwise the investment that we're making otherwise – diplomatically, politically, intelligence-wise, militarily – falls into a chaotic situation," Pelosi said. "We can't have that."