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Obama, GOP tiptoe on war authorization

Obama, GOP tiptoe on war authorization
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President Obama agreed during a meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday to begin preparing draft language for legislation that would authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) said after the meeting that Obama “indicated he is working towards sending us an authorization for the use of military force” and that he expected the draft proposal in “the near future.”

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“I think a good starting place would be for him to tell us what he wants, and provide the initial document off which we would work,” McConnell said.

But a White House official emphasized Tuesday that the administration would continue to solicit input from Congress through meetings with both lawmakers and staff before producing a draft.

“At the request of bipartisan members present at today’s meeting, the White House will continue to work with the Congressional leaders on the details of that language, and we look forward to sharing a draft with Congress that reflects their bipartisan input,” the official said.

The official said the administration was heartened by bipartisan interest in the process, and said it demonstrated “a clear signal of support for our ongoing military operations against” the terror network.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE (R-Ohio) has called on Obama to produce language of his own since the president first said he hoped to secure the authorization shortly after Election Day. BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE did so again in the meeting Tuesday with the president. 

Last week, Boehner said argued that historical precedent dictated that Obama should produce the language.

“I’ve continued to remind the president that historically the commander in chief has identified the need for the use of military force, written a new authorization for that force, sent it to the Hill, and typically also worked to build bipartisan support for such [a] resolution,” Boehner said. “Once again, I would urge him to do so. If he does, Republicans will be ready to work with him to get it approved.”

But the dispute appears to be of a game of political hot potato, with the White House eager for Congress to demonstrate buy-in for the mission against ISIS by drafting legislation, and lawmakers preferring the president to take the lead — and responsibility — for the combat mission.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (R-S.D.) described the issue as the “elephant in the room.”

“I don't know if he is going to send it up,” Thune said. “I don't know process-wise how this works. There was robust discussion for a need for one.”

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes Kerry2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states When it comes to Colombia, America is in a tough spot 36 people who could challenge Trump in 2020 MORE presented a framework for legislation in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee late last month, although he did not offer specific language.

The committee ended up drafting legislation that never hit the Senate floor, but the White House said it opposed the bill due to “concerning language” that placed restorations on the president's ability to deploy ground troops.

The legislation, which cleared the committee in a 10-8 vote with majority Democratic support, would not allow ground combat operations except to protect or rescue U.S. soldiers and citizens. It also includes provisions allowing American troops to conduct intelligence operations, provide advice and assistance or coordinate airstrikes from the ground.

The White House said it did not foresee a scenario under which ground troops would be deployed in a combat role in Iraq or Syria, but wanted to preserve that ability in case of emergency. White House press secretary Josh Earnest cited a special forces raid earlier this year in Syria in an attempt to free American hostages held by ISIS.

The language did include exemptions for special forces operations, but aides said the White House remained concerned about handcuffing the president at all — despite Obama's commitment not to reengage ground troops.

“That’s an indication of the need for the commander in chief to have flexibility to protect our national security interests,” Earnest said. “That does not reflect a change in policy but does reflect a need for the commander in chief to have the kind of flexibility to respond to situations that, frankly, right now are impossible to foresee.”

Laura Barron-Lopez contributed to this story.