OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Obama faces hard sell on ISIS war measure

THE TOPLINE: President Obama's request for a congressional war authorization against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was greeted with skepticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Wednesday.

The divide is largely centered on a provision of the bill that would prohibit the use of "enduring offensive ground combat operations" in the fight against ISIS.

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The White House on Wednesday acknowledged that the language was intentionally ambiguous, so as not to place "overly burdensome constraints" on the president. 

Democrats say the language does too little to limit the White House from committing ground troops to the fight, while Republicans say the restrictions could handcuff the military.

Some key House Republicans are already drawing red lines on the president's request, arguing that there should be no limits on U.S. ground troops. 

"I will not give consent to a measure that ties the hands of our military commanders or takes options off the table," said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Homeland Security Committee chairman. 

However, President Obama said Wednesday he was "optimistic that it can win strong bipartisan support and that we can show our troops and the world that Americans are united in this mission." 

The legislation includes a sunset provision that would require Congress to reauthorize the measure within three years. 

It also would repeal a 2002 law authorizing the invasion of Iraq -- although keep in place a 2001 bill approving operations against al Qaeda and its affiliates, which Obama has so far used to justify his bombing campaign against ISIS.

Freshman Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) on Wednesday became the first Democrat to explicitly oppose the request.

  

GOP LAWMAKER FEARS 'JIHADI PIPELINE.' An Obama administration effort to admit Syrian refugees into the country could become a "jihadi pipeline" for Islamic militants, according to Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

"I am worried that [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] could exploit this effort in order to deploy operatives to America via a federally funded jihadi pipeline," said McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

"I think this would be a huge mistake if we bring in these into the United States that could potentially be radicalized," he said.

The U.S. is likely to resettle up to 2,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year and potentially thousands more in fiscal 2016 under the State Department-led effort. The Homeland Security Department has the authority to approve the admissions.

A pair of top U.S. intelligence officials testified that they also have reservations about the plan, but vowed to do everything in the power to vet refugees who are admitted into the country.

"It's clearly a population of concern ...  what we want to be able to do is apply the full weight of U.S. intelligence community holdings to the vetting and screening process so that we can unearth any information that we may have in our holdings that gives us concern about particular individuals," added Nick Rasmussen, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center.

 

TRICARE 'DEATH SPIRAL'? Members of a congressional appointed panel on Wednesday pushed House members to seriously weigh their proposal to eliminate Tricare, the military's health insurance plan.

The proposal, one of 15 recommendations unveiled this month by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, has sparked hot debate on Capitol Hill.

"Tricare is a broken program," Commissioner Stephen Buyer told a subpanel of the House Armed Services Committee.

Retired Adm. Edmund Giambastiani said Tricare is in a "death spiral."

The commission's recommendation would allow nearly 5 million active-duty family members, soldiers in the reserve components and retirees who are not yet old enough to receive Medicare to leave the Tricare system and get a private insurance plan.

Buyer said lawmakers would "receive pressure from across the river" -- meaning the Defense Department -- and from military and veteran associations to steer clear of changing Tricare.

"Don't get sucked into the status quo," said Buyer, a former Republican member of the House from Indiana who served as chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee

He warned lawmakers that when they present the panel's findings to others there will be "gargoyles who defend the muck."

"Being the agent of change is never fun," Buyer said.

 

INHOFE INTROS UKRAINE BILL: Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeA third of Congress hasn’t held a town hall — it’s time to take action Anonymous affiliate publishes claimed list of GOP private contact info Wasting America’s nuclear opportunity MORE (R-Okla.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced on Wednesday a bill that would authorize the president to arm Ukraine with lethal military weapons in order to deter further Russian aggression.

The bill explicitly authorizes the U.S. to provide Ukraine with "lethal" weapons to remove any ambiguity over what kind of military aid should be provided. It also requires the president to present a comprehensive strategy to Congress 15 days after enactment, with updates every 90 days. 

The bill is cosponsored by more than a dozen other Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Ky.). 

Inhofe said since Russia invaded Ukraine last March and began supporting separatists in Ukraine, more than 5,000 Ukrainians have been killed, 10,300 injured and 900,000 displaced. 

"While there is no purely military solution to what is a political problem, additional U.S. military assistance can help promote a political solution by raising the costs of further aggression by Russia," Inhofe said. "Raising the costs will give Putin pause to allow political and economic pressure from outside and within Russia to force a political accommodation."

Inhofe's bill follows bipartisan legislation announced Tuesday by the House Armed Services Committee to provide Ukraine with $1 billion in additional military assistance, including lethal weapons. 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

- Lawmaker's tiff with VA chief moves to Facebook

- House Homeland Security chairman warns of 'terrorist armies'

- Paul, Dems demand release of drone docs

- Yemen latest Obama foreign policy failure, Graham says

- Defense contracting agency investigating possible breach

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