Administration officials struggled Wednesday to sell skeptical lawmakers on President Obama's plan for military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Passing the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) will be an uphill battle, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.).
"We don't know of a single Democrat in Congress, in the United States Senate, anyway, that supports that authorization for the use of military force," he said.
The draft war powers proposal would last for three years. It would repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War, but leave in place the 2001 AUMF that the administration is using to justify the military campaign against ISIS.
It would not have any geographic limitation and apply to ISIS and "associated" forces, but ban "enduring offensive ground combat operations."
Both parties have problems with the proposal, and their complaints appear irreconcilable.
Republicans argue that the proposal would be too restrictive for military commanders, while Democrats worry that the language could allow another ground war in the Middle East.
"What I think Democrats are not willing to do, is to give this or any other president an open-ended authorization for war. A blank check," said the committee's ranking member, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Spending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany MORE (D-N.J.).
"Clearly, there's a need to define exactly what would be allowed. And it would seem to me that, legally, there is at least the potential for large numbers of U.S. troops to be deployed in Iraq and Syria, and maybe beyond, with the authorization as submitted," he said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter told lawmakers that the words "enduring offensive ground combat operations" meant the resolution did "not authorize the kind of a campaign that we conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"That is not what we foresee as necessary for the defeat of ISIL, so I — it meets my objective of having necessary possibility," he said, using an alternate name for ISIS.
Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Storms a growing danger for East Coast Israel, Jordan, UAE sign pivotal deal to swap solar energy, desalinated water GOP seeks oversight hearing with Kerry on climate diplomacy MORE, who also testified, said the plan would be flexible enough to allow rescue operations, targeted operations against ISIS leadership, and intelligence collection and sharing.
"But the whole purpose here is to kind of have a concept that's well understood, that is extremely limited, but not so limiting that our military can't do what it needs to do in some situations to protect America's interests or American personnel," Kerry said.
Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' It's time to bury ZombieCare once and for all Marjorie Taylor Greene introduces bill to award Congressional Gold Medal to Rittenhouse MORE (R-Wisc.) called the definitions "puzzling."
"There's been an awful lot of loose statements here," he said.
Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFauci says lies, threats are 'noise' Fauci overwhelmed by calls after journal published mistake over beagle experiments McConnell looks for way out of debt ceiling box MORE (R-Ky.), a 2016 presidential contender, said the language in the plan is so vague that the subsequent president could interpret it to include a large ground force.
"I trust the military when the military says, 'This isn't what we're contemplating.' I trust you. But the thing is, there'll be another president who I may or may not trust."
At least one senator expressed support for the AUMF's flexibility.
"We all recognize that we may have to endure some degree of ambiguity in the language," said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeRubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees Senate confirms Thomas Nides as US ambassador to Israel Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay MORE (R-Ariz.). "And as we know in this body, we never get everything we want."
"I might wish for more firm language with regard to what an enduring force is or whatever else. But I think we need to value also language that can get a good bipartisan majority to send that message," he said.