© Greg Nash
President Obama's decision to send U.S. troops into Syria is reigniting the debate in Congress over long-stalled legislation authorizing the war.
The administration announced Friday that it would send approximately 50 special operations troops into Syria in an advisory role, putting U.S. boots on the ground in the country for the first time since the country's civil war began.
Democrats pounced on the decision, suggesting that it underscores the need for Congress to take up and pass an authorization for use of force (AUMF), which could also place boundaries on military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"Regardless of my views, the War Powers Resolution requires Congress to debate and authorize the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said, calling the administration's decision to send troops into the country a "mistake."
Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Eight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs Defense bill creates new office to study UFOs MORE (D-N.M.) struck a similar tone in a letter to Obama Friday, adding that "the lack of will from Congress to vote on a new AUMF amounts to a total dereliction of its duties and responsibilities."
Lawmakers have struggled for months to overcome the wide divisions on a war bill. The issue has created splits between and within the Republican and Democratic parties.
While Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRepublicans, ideology, and demise of the state and local tax deduction Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocrats hope to salvage Biden's agenda on Manchin's terms Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Biden to huddle with Senate Democrats as voting bill on brink of defeat MORE (D-Md.) pledged earlier this year to try to find common ground, members of the committee have made little progress, partially because the issue had been overshadowed by Congress's debate on Iran.
An AUMF proposal that the administration submitted to lawmakers earlier this year sparked concerns from both parties over language banning any "enduring offensive ground combat operations." While Republicans feared the language could tie the hands of the military, Democrats worried it would be vague enough to create legal backing for an open-ended ground war.
Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBiden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support MORE (D-Conn.), who has called for banning ground troops from combat roles in Syria, said Friday that an AUMF passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014 "specifically banned the presence of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria."
“The bottom line is that it is well past time for Congress to do our constitutional duty and debate an authorization for the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria," he added, using an alternative acronym for ISIS. "I hope that in the shadow of this new escalation, Congress will do its job and debate and pass an authorization to give legal standing to the administration’s fight against ISIL.”
Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats hope to salvage Biden's agenda on Manchin's terms Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Bipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill MORE (D-Del.) acknowledged the uphill battle to passing legislation, citing a "very sharply divided and very partisan Congress."
"Well there's a lot of folks … who don't think we can pull together an authorization across the very big differences," he told MSNBC on Friday.
Aside from floor speeches by Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Manchin, Sinema join GOP to sink filibuster change for voting bill Desperate Dems signal support for cutting Biden bill down in size MORE (D-Va.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees MORE (R-Ariz.), who have been leading advocates for congressional action on a war powers bill, debate over an AUMF has been largely absent in the Senate.
Kaine reiterated his position Friday, saying that "it is time for Congress to do its most solemn job, to debate and declare war."
The Virginia Democrat told The Hill earlier this month that while his colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee increasingly acknowledged that legislation needed to be passed, there were few signs of action.
Underscoring the political differences, Republicans largely focused on the need for a strategy from Obama in the wake of Friday's announcement.
"We need a comprehensive strategy that will actually achieve our goal of defeating ISIS," Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 I'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back Barnes raises over million in final quarter of 2021 MORE (R-Wis.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said. He also suggested earlier this year that the Senate wouldn't pass a war bill until after Obama left office.
In the House, lawmakers defeated a push by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) earlier this year that would have required removal of troops from Iraq and Syria within 30 days. The move was part of an effort by McGovern to either remove troops or force Congress to pass legislation authorizing the war.
McGovern said Friday that Americans want to know that Washington has "a clear plan to bring this conflict to a peaceful end," adding that "this starts with Congress doing its job and voting on an AUMF."