Obama aide: ISIS war powers language ‘intentionally’ vague

Language in President Obama's proposed authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is "intentionally" fuzzy, the White House acknowledged on Wednesday.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said some of the language in the bill submitted to Congress on Wednesday was not specifically defined "because we believe it's important that there aren't overly burdensome constraints that are placed on the commander in chief."

Obama "needs the flexibility to be able to respond to contingencies that emerge in a chaotic military conflict like this," Earnest argued.


The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have questioned that provision, with Republicans saying they worry it would restrict military commanders from taking the fight to ISIS and Democrats fretting it would place no practical limits on military action.

But for the White House, that ambiguity may be key to stitching together a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who could support the draft legislation.

On Wednesday, Earnest said the proposed bill only ruled out the type of large-scale ground operations seen in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Asked what "enduring" meant in terms of length or scope, Earnest said he would not have "a specific number to assign to that word."

"What the president does not envision is a long-term, large-scale commitment of ground combat troops," he said.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Va.), among the Senate's most vocal advocates for passing an AUMF targeting ISIS, said he was “concerned about the breadth and vagueness of the U.S. ground troop language and will seek to clarify it."

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio), however, said he had “concerns” the draft legislation did not give “military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people.”

Earnest said that the White House expects lawmakers will find "some things that we should tweak here."

But he also stressed that the legislation would put new restrictions on the president, noting that the bill only authorized an anti-ISIS mission for three years.

"I think it is fair for you to assume that this reflects a starting point in conversations, but this starting point was arrived at after extensive consultations between senior members of the president's national security team and Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill in both the House and the Senate," Earnest said.