House to vote on withdrawing troops from Iraq, Syria

The House will vote Wednesday on whether to direct President Obama to remove troops from Iraq and Syria in the absence of a congressional authorization for using military force against Islamic State militants.

Wednesday’s vote - after two full hours of floor debate - will serve as a test of whether the House has the will to pass a war authorization following months of stalled deliberations and an escalating U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.) teamed up with Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to force a vote on a resolution that would direct President Obama to remove U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Syria within 30 days. Obama could opt to take the troops out by the end of 2015 if the administration determines it isn’t safe to do so within the 30-day timeframe.


The U.S. has more than 3,000 military advisers in Iraq. It has no troops in Syria, but has carried out air strikes in that country against ISIS as well as a special forces raid that killed a top ISIS commander, Abu Sayyaf. 

On the eve of the vote, McGovern cast his measure as a referendum on whether Congress really wants the U.S. to be ensnared in another military intervention in the Middle East.

“If Congress doesn’t have the guts to have this debate, then we should not expect our brave men and women to have to be put in this terribly dangerous situation,” McGovern said.

“It is stunning to me that at this late stage, 11 months into this war, that so many in this chamber are content to sit back and let the president do whatever he wants,” he added.

The Obama administration announced last week that the president authorized deploying up to 450 more U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi forces in the war against ISIS.

Congress initially authorized $500 million in September to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels to fight ISIS militants. Lawmakers predicted at the time that they would formally debate authorizing a war upon returning from the 2014 midterms.

But after the election, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAre maskless House members scofflaws? Israel, Democrats and the problem of the Middle East Joe Crowley to register as lobbyist for recording artists MORE (R-Ohio) said a lame-duck Congress shouldn’t be responsible for a vote of such magnitude. He also called on the White House to submit a draft authorization of military force (AUMF) for Congress to review.

President Obama subsequently sent Congress a draft war measure in February, but opposition from Democrats who fear the request is too open-ended and Republicans concerned it imposes too many limits stalled the proposal.

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAre maskless House members scofflaws? Israel, Democrats and the problem of the Middle East Joe Crowley to register as lobbyist for recording artists MORE said last month that Obama should withdraw his AUMF and "start over."

The White House has dismissed the idea of sending Congress another war measure, especially given that lawmakers didn’t vote on the first one.

To date, the Obama administration has been using authority from the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to justify the airstrikes targeted at ISIS. However, the Sunni militant group did not exist in the early 2000s when Congress authorized the two wars.

Jones, one of the staunchest House conservatives, maintained that President Obama fulfilled his role in the process.

“I’m not a supporter of the president politically speaking, but I will tell you this: He did his job,” Jones said at a joint press briefing with McGovern and Lee. “So the fault lies with the House leadership on this issue.”

Wednesday’s vote will be the second time the House has debated whether it should proceed with an AUMF.

Last week, the House rejected an amendment to the 2016 defense spending bill that would prohibit the use of funds for the military campaign against ISIS after March 31, 2016, unless Congress passes a measure specifically authorizing it. It failed on a vote of 196-231.

McGovern acknowledged that his measure might not have the votes to pass. But if it does, he’s hoping it will pressure the Senate into doing the same.

“To be honest, this is certainly an uphill battle in the House. And if by chance we were to prevail, my hope is that maybe some of our Senate colleagues would use the same maneuver,” McGovern said.