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Senate panel approves ISIS measure barring ground troops

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a measure Thursday authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) but barring the use of ground troops.

In a 10-8 party-line vote, the panel advanced legislation drafted by Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTrump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it Blame Senate, not FBI, for Kavanaugh travesty Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints MORE (D-N.J.) giving President Obama authority to target the terror organization and allied groups.

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The three-year Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) would ban ground troops except in special circumstances and require the administration to report back to lawmakers every 60 days.

The vote takes place two days after Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the committee, were he signaled that the administration largely agreed with the language but urged lawmakers not to rule out the option of boots on the ground.

Kerry also wanted language allowing the three-year window to be extended.

Both arguments met with stiff resistance from Menendez, who remained adamant on Thursday that an authorization should not be “unlimited.”

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the panel’s top Republican, spoke out against the measure, saying that lawmakers have “no earthly idea how the administration plans” to battle ISIS forces in Syria.

He noted that the panel's measure would not receive a full Senate vote, nor be taken up in the House.

A surprise "no" vote was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who forced Thursday’s vote by trying to attach a declaration of war against ISIS to a water authorization bill last week.

Prior to approving the authorization, Paul, who might run for president in 2016, joined the panel's Democrats in clearing a package of Democratic-sponsored amendments to the measure.

The amendments added language to the authorization that emphasized the atrocities ISIS has carried out against women; stressed the importance of finding a way to pay for the ongoing military action; and would sunset a 2001 authorization for military force in three years, though that could be reauthorized or revised.

The administration is relying on the 2001 authorization for its actions against ISIS, but said it would welcome a new authority.

Committee Democrats and Republicans joined forces to block an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that would have shortened the authorization's shelf life from three years to one. Paul co-sponsored the measure.

Paul was dealt a bipartisan defeat over an amendment that would have placed a geographic limit on anti-ISIS efforts, restricting military actions to Iraq and Syria.

He cited a recent nonprofit study that listed 60 extremist groups in 30 countries as "associated" with ISIS and wanted to avoid a “world wide war.” Udall served as a co-sponsor.

Republicans criticized the AUMF before its passage.

“I don’t believe it really commits us to victory” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said.

“We’re not defining what defeat is,” he added.

Other GOP members expressed concern that the AUMF would tie the president’s hands by banning ground troops, a charge Menendez flatly rejected.

Despite Thursday’s vote, it is unclear if the full Senate will take up the measure before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

"I hope we do find floor time to vote on this," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has pushed for a vote.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he hoped the vote would help Congress “perhaps” pass an AUMF in 2015.

Corker, who is expected to chair the committee next year, said he stayed out during the measure’s debate because lawmakers had little time in the lame duck.

“I haven't vigorously debated because I realize we'll be doing this again in January,” he said.