Liberal Dems question Obama on Iraq

Liberal Dems question Obama on Iraq
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Liberal Democrats are questioning President Obama's authority to launch missile strikes in Iraq without congressional approval.

On Wednesday the president informed congressional leaders that he won't seek new authority if he decides to use military force to quell Iraq's growing insurgency – a decision backed by top Democratic leaders. 


But a number of rank-and-file liberals in the caucus argue that the law Obama is invoking – a 2002 statute authorizing President George W. Bush to invade Iraq – is outdated. If the president intends to launch new military operations, they argue, he should come back to Congress for a new authorization. 

"Congress needs to be on record," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday. "That's the way it's set up. And a 12-year-old decision on unilateral preemptive strikes that have been heavily criticized and tarnished, I don't think should be the basis for any new involvement." 

Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchSenators call for more automakers to join emissions deal with California House Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment Overnight Health Care: Oversight chair plans to call drug executives to testify on costs | Biden airs anti-'Medicare for All' video | House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted kids MORE (D-Vt.) agreed, saying Congress has "neglected" its role when it comes to checking military operations pushed by the executive branch.

"Congress needs to be more assertive when it comes to crossing that line to military engagement," Welch said Thursday.

"I don't know what the lawyers would say, but I know as a congressman what I would say," he added. "If we're going to start military strikes … Congress should have a say."

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) echoed that message.

"Maybe it's technically legal," he said, "but I don't consider that legitimate, considering what we've all been through." 

Obama on Thursday held a press briefing to address his approach to the escalating Iraq crisis. The president repeatedly ruled out the option of returning U.S. troops to the field, but argued the importance of helping local forces stabilize the country for the sake of protecting American interests. Toward that end, he left open the option of launching targeted strikes on the Sunni jihadists pushing toward Baghdad.

"We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it," said Obama. "If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region."

At a White House meeting the day before, Obama had informed the top four congressional leaders – Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBarr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks Harry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info MORE (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Overnight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts MORE (R-Ky.), House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) – that he won't be seeking congressional approval if he decides to go that route.

Breaking with many liberals in their caucus, the top House Democrats – Pelosi and Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Jim Clyburn (S.C.) – have all endorsed that argument.

"A president does not need any additional congressional authority to act upon measures to protect our national security," Pelosi said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol.

Pelosi said neither McConnell nor BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE objected. 

"I didn't hear any of them demanding congressional action," she said. "That was certainly not the case."

Last year, Obama had sought Congress's approval to use force in Syria to address the use of chemical weapons by dictator Bashar Assad. Faced with overwhelming public disapproval, Congress appeared ready to deny that request. Only a diplomatic breakthrough involving Russia led Assad to agree to destroy his chemical cache. 

With polls showing a similar public distaste for any new operations in Iraq, there's a growing sentiment on Capitol Hill that Obama couldn't win the new authority if he tried. 

"I don't think that he would get it," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said Thursday.

Cummings said he thinks Obama has the authority, under existing law, to launch strikes in Iraq. But "from a political standpoint" the president will still have to justify that decision in the context of its importance to U.S. interests.

"He still needs to make his case," Cummings said.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, is offering three amendments to a House defense spending bill aimed at preventing Obama from launching any further military action in Iraq.

One amendment would bar funding for the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq. 

The proposal, scheduled for a vote late Thursday night, is expected to fail. Still, Pelosi applauded Lee Thursday for forcing a "worthy" debate.

"I salute her action in bringing it to the floor," Pelosi said. "I don't know if it will win … but it's certainly a worthy discussion."