A leading Senate Democrat called on President Obama Wednesday to submit draft legislation authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, intensifying pressure on the White House to clarify whether it intends to seek a vote ahead of potential airstrikes against Sunni extremists.
"The White House should submit to Congress a new draft authorization to deal with today’s threats," Kaine wrote in The Washington Post. "Now is clearly the time for this debate."
Last week, congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with Obama at the White House saying he didn't expect to request congressional permission for his Iraq plan.
“The president briefed us on the situation in Iraq and indicated he didn't feel he had any need for authority from us for steps that he might take and indicated that he would keep us posted,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the White House believed "that the actions that the president has taken so far do not require additional congressional authorization."
It is unclear whether Obama would seek authorization for military strikes, were he to opt for that route. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has suggested he does not need to take that step, citing an existing Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in 2002 ahead of the Iraq War that remains on the books.
Others have said the broad legislation passed in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terror attacks could enable Obama to take action against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Sunni group making gains in Iraq.
But Kaine says "neither authorization applies" in the current situation.
"In the current Iraq crisis, neither authorization applies," Kaine said. "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is not an al-Qaeda affiliate — in fact, it is openly battling with al-Qaeda in Syria — and administration officials have said that the 2002 AUMF is obsolete and should be repealed."
The Virginia lawmaker said he was "open to hearing the case for military action in Iraq, but first we need a new playbook."
"I believe the president must come to Congress for authority to initiate any U.S. military action in Iraq," Kaine said. "We should do many things immediately — robust diplomatic engagement, humanitarian aid, strong security assistance for our partners that face a regional threat from ISIS. Specific counterterrorism action, whether overt or covert, should be part of the debate about a new AUMF. But war takes Congress."
Earnest said last week that the president has shown "a demonstrated commitment from this administration to continue to consult with Congress."
"The president hosted a consultation meeting with the four leaders of Congress in the Oval Office earlier this week," Earnest said. "Over the weekend, as administration officials were assessing the situation in Iraq, there were a number of phone calls from senior members of the President’s national security team to leaders in Congress — both those in the congressional leadership, but also those who are the leaders of relevant committees. So that congressional consultation will continue. And we certainly welcome the interest and the support of the American policy in Iraq."
Kaine and other Senate Democrats have been invited to the White House Wednesday evening for an informal social gathering with the president.