By Justin Sink - 08/25/14 06:10 PM EDT
President Obama needs to seek explicit congressional approval for his airstrike campaign against Islamist militants operating in Iraq and Syria, a prominent Senate Democrat said Monday.
The Virginia Democrat said he did not believe the airstrikes against the militants, who have captured large swaths of northern Iraq, were covered under existing authorizations from Congress. And he said the White House needed to better clarify what its plan for confronting the militants was.
"I urge the administration to use the next two weeks to clearly define the strategy and objectives of its mission against [ISIS], then bring it to Congress for a debate and authorization vote," Kaine said.
The statement came just hours after the White House refused to commit to asking Congress to authorize airstrikes within Syria.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama is “committed to coordinating and consulting with Congress,” but said the president “will not hesitate to use his authority” to keep Americans safe.
Just a year ago, Obama came to Congress to authorize strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is engaged in an ongoing civil war against both ISIS and a moderate opposition. He explained his decision by saying that the country would be “stronger” if he asked for Congress’s approval.
“I wasn’t elected to avoid hard decisions,” Obama said at the time. “And neither were the members of the House and the Senate.”
But the White House has indicated it does not need congressional authorization for the airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, saying that the terror group was threatening American diplomats in Baghdad and Erbil. The White House has also noted that it's conducting the strikes at the invitation of Iraq's government.
The president has informed Congress about the military action as required under the War Powers Resolution, and might be required to remove the initial group of military advisers dispatched there within the month without more explicit congressional approval.
But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem wary of a vote on the situation in Iraq, especially ahead of the midterm elections. While Republicans have so far urged the president to ramp up the mission against ISIS, they're reluctant to take a vote endorsing the president's efforts. Many Democrats, meanwhile, know their base voters oppose escalating war in the region.
Still, some Democrats are pressuring the White House to bring the issue to a vote. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said Monday Congress "has an independent responsibility" to weigh in on the airstrikes campaign.
"If what we're headed toward is an extensive bombing campaign that spans from Kurdistan into Iraq and through Syria ... Congress has a strong responsibility to take a stance," Welch said.
The Vermont Democrat said that "military action can't succeed without the sustained support of the American people" and that members of Congress should "share responsibility with the president" to demonstrate that.