US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) like to portray themselves as strong leaders who act to protect congressional authority against Obama Administration power grabs. But, in regard to the ISIS War, both congressional leaders are happy to cede — year after year — power without limit to President Barack Obama and whoever the next president may be.
McConnell told Roll Call on Friday that he opposes the Senate voting on an authorization of the ISIS War until, if ever, sometime after the January of 2017 inauguration of a new president. Just let Obama conduct the ISIS War however he pleases for the remainder of his term, and do not dare impose any limits on the next president either: That is McConnell’s position.
Meanwhile, Ryan is expressing willingness to hold a House debate and vote on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the ISIS War, but only so long as it is assured the AUMF in no way restricts what Obama or a future president may do.
Niels Lesniewski reports on the AUMF discussion in Roll Call’s interview with McConnell:
‘The president obviously feels he has the authority now to do what he’s doing,’ McConnell said. ‘And the discussions with Democrats on AUMF make it clear that the only kind of AUMF they would support is one that would include such micromanagement of the military exercise as how many troops you could have, how long they could stay, and all of this.
‘I would not want to saddle the next president with a prescriptive AUMF. We’re going to have a new president a year from now,’ McConnell continued. ‘He or she may have a different view about the way to deal with ISIS and that part of the world. I don’t think we ought to be passing an AUMF as the president exits the stage when he already thinks he has the authority to do what he’s willing to do now.’
There you have it: McConnell opposes an ISIS War debate and vote because he wants to preserve unlimited war-waging power in the presidency.
So absent from this so-called leader is any gumption to lead on this matter the US Constitution squarely puts in the hands of congress members that he does not even express his own opinion about whether Obama or the next president even has actual authority to pursue the ISIS war. Look at the “weasel words” he throws out: “[t]he president obviously feels he has the authority now to do what he’s doing.” Well, the president is either right or wrong about that. What do you think, Mr. Leader?
As long as McConnell does not say what he thinks about the war and continues to block a debate and vote on the war, he can take advantage of an old trick in the Washington, DC chicanery book — claim credit for the ISIS War should it prove popular in public opinion or blame the war on someone else should it prove unpopular.
In refusing to schedule a debate and vote on the ISIS war, McConnell is ceding to Obama and the next president (whoever that will be) the ability to pursue war without limit and without the constitutionally required congressional declaration.
At least McConnell is now upfront enough to say that he has decided to duck his responsibility, unlike the recently-resigned House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) who misleadingly spoke month after month about his desire to have an ISIS War debate and vote in the House that never materialized.
Ryan, Boehner’s successor as speaker, similarly speaks aspirationally about the House someday debating and voting on the ISIS War. Do not mistake Ryan for an advocate of peace or of following the Constitution regarding war powers, however. Ryan says he both believes Obama has the authority to proceed in the ISIS War without any congressional action and opposes moving forward with any AUMF Obama would reject or that would “handcuff the next president.”
McConnell and Ryan’s announced positions are of little surprise given the lack of opposition to the ISIS War from any of the top Republican and Democrat leaders in the US House and Senate since the Obama administration began pursuing the war, without any congressional debate or vote, last year.
Either the McConnell or Ryan way, ducking responsibility is the ignoble path followed by the so-called congressional leadership.