Congressional Republicans on Sunday questioned President Obama’s commitment to defeating the Islamic State, saying he should have asked lawmakers last week for more military power in his war authorization to ensure U.S. victory.
The administration’s strategy would authorize military force to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, for three years but would limit American boots on the ground to specific roles, such as rescue operations or commando missions.
Some Republicans think it does not go far enough and have urged the president to take more responsibility, questioning if Mr. Obama can win the fight with the tools he asked for in his proposal to Congress.
“I think there is a lot of skepticism about the administration’s commitment to dealing with ISIS,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “That creates a lot of concern.”
The president has been ordering airstrikes in Syria and Iraq for more than six months, citing under authorizations from 2001 and 2002 to fight al Qaeda and send troops to Iraq.
House Speaker John Boehner said Mr. Obama’s latest proposal actually gives him less authority than he has under those previous authorizations.
“I don’t think that’s smart,” Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t believe what the president sent here gives him the flexibility or the authority to take on this enemy and win.”
Asked about the redundancy in the authorization request and the 2001 law that allows for military action against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, Sen. John McCain acknowledged that it’s “probably not absolutely necessary” to approve a new authorization, but said it’s “probably appropriate” to have the debate since Congress hasn’t done so in more than a decade.
Mr. McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said stripping the commander-in-chief of any military options is “unconstitutional and, frankly, leads to 535 commander-in-chiefs” as lawmakers get too involved in specific military strategy.
“I think we should not restrain the president of the United States,” the Arizona Republican said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Congress has the power of the purse. If we don’t like what the commander-in-chief is doing, we can cut off his funds for doing so.”
While Republicans are pushing the president to take more aggressive military action, Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat, cautioned that many Democrats would not support another “blank check.”
“I think it’s very important to find way to get to ‘yes’ on an authorization, but I also think it’s very important to not to write another blank check. We did that 14 years ago with the 2001 authorization,” Mr. Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.” “That’s worrying to a lot of Democrats, because it means that when the new one expires, the new president can simply rely on that old authorization and say, ‘That gives me the authority to go after whoever I want, wherever I want, in any way I want.’”
Lawmakers in both parties had been calling on Mr. Obama to send a new authorization to Capitol Hill for months, saying that members of Congress should be forced to vote on the campaign if American service members are going to be sent into danger.
Former Rep. Mike Rogers, who served as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the administration’s slow pace to send his proposal to Congress is even more frustrating as the Islamic State, which has captured about one-third of Iraq and Syria, continues to expand its reach by moving into Egypt, Afghanistan and Libya.
“They’re getting bigger, they’re expanding their operations,” Mr. Rogers, Michigan Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “In the mean time, we’re going to have hearings over a series of week to do things he should’ve been working on for months.”
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is expected to begin holding hearings next week after lawmakers return from a week-long vacation for Presidents Day. Mr. Boehner said it is “too early to predict” if the Congress could pass an authorization.
Members of Congress have stressed that they want to do it right rather than rush through a debate, but Mr. Rogers said action is needed quickly. This lengthy process in Congress could have been avoided, he said, if the president had worked with lawmakers in both parties before releasing the authorization and sent language that would “have passed in a week.”
“This is I think the hallmark of this presidency: He refuses to believe he needs to engage members of Congress in either party,” the former congressman said.
Asked why it’s Americans’ responsibility to clean up the chaos in the Middle East, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, cited U.S. national security, adding that it’s also Americans’ responsibility to help stabilize the region after overthrowing the Iraqi government in 2003.
“We have the consequences of that decision, which I opposed,” Mr. Reed said on “Meet the Press.” “We have to do this in our own self interest, we’re doing this to help countries, but ultimately it’s to protect ourselves.”