WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House sought to narrow differences with members of Congress on Tuesday on President Barack Obama’s widely anticipated request for legislation approving the use of U.S. military force against Islamic State fighters in the Middle East.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and counsel Neil Eggleston were meeting with Senate Democrats as Obama prepared to formally unveil his proposed authorization. Press secretary Josh Earnest said the proposal should be finished this week as the White House steps up negotiations with lawmakers from both parties to finalize details. “Hopefully there will not be a significant delay in Congress acting on that legislative language,” Earnest said.
The meetings unfolded against a fresh reminder of the threat posed by terrorists who occupy large areas of Syria and Iraq — the confirmed death of a 26-year-old American aid worker who had been held hostage by the group.
Obama pledged to bring anyone responsible for Kayla Mueller’s captivity and death to justice “no matter how long it takes.”
Of more immediate concern, though, was a legislative struggle — the search for a compromise that could satisfy Democrats who oppose the use of American ground forces in the fight against IS, and Republicans who favor at least leaving the possibility open.
Republicans control both houses of Congress, but Obama is likely to need Democratic support on any legislation he submits.
Congressional officials who have been briefed in recent days said they expected Obama to request a relatively short-term authorization of perhaps three years, enough to last through the end of his term.
The administration’s proposal, while still subject to changes, also would likely be targeted exclusively against the fighters seeking establishment of an Islamic state, wherever they are and whatever name they use.
The legislation is also expected to terminate Congress’ vote to use force in Afghanistan, enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. It also would end a second authorization approved the following year, before President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq.
There was little evident dispute in Congress that new legislation was needed, both to replace outdated measures and also to underscore a bipartisan desire to defeat the terrorists seeking an Islamic state. The group has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, imposed a violent form of Sharia law and beheaded several hostages from the United States and other Western countries. Last week, it distributed a horrifying videotape showing the execution-by-burning of a Jordanian pilot by burning him alive.
Mueller’s reported death was the latest event to produce calls for retaliation.
Among members of Obama’s party, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said during the day that some rank and file lawmakers want to set geographic limits and restrict the types of forces that can be used.
“They want some time limit so we can reconsider at some point in time, whether it’s 24 months, 36 months, 48 months,” he said at a news conference.
As top White House aides met privately with Senate Democrats, Republicans praised Obama’s willingness to seek legislation, up to a point.
“This president, you know, is prone to unilateral action. But when it comes to national security matters, and particularly now fighting this barbaric threat — not only the region but to our own security — I think it’s important to come to Congress and get bipartisan support,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican leader.
Many Republicans have said they prefer legislation that at least permits the use of ground troops if Obamadecides it may be necessary. Some, including Sen. John McCain, have gone further, saying ground troops are needed if the Islamic State fighters are to be defeated.
Obama so far has relied on congressional authorizations that Bush used to justify military action after 9/11. He said last year he had the legal authority necessary to deploy more than 2,700 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces and conduct ongoing airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria.
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