"No one wants to get involved once again in a protracted war where we're fighting someone else's civil war," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus. "We want to make sure that we have an exit strategy, and we know what we're doing to try to make sure that the good guys come out ahead. In this case, it's a very complicated fight."
The authorization could come as soon as Wednesday. Lawmakers are waiting to see if tweaks will be made based off the member feedback that has already been delivered to the White House.
"One of the most difficult things for us will be [examining] exactly what language puts into place the current president's commitment to not have a significant on-the-ground, enduring American combat presence in a way that would bind the next administration as well," said Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
It's a complicated fight made more complex by vague authorization language. For some Democrats, the term "no enduring offensive ground troops" may be too broad to ultimately embrace.
"I support the general framework," Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said, "but I have significant questions. I don't know what the word 'enduring' means. I'm very apprehensive about a vague, foggy word, and enduring is not in the eyes of the beholder."
Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said Obama will have to convince Democrats that the AUMF "is not going to be too broadly interpreted and too broadly used," as they believe was the case with the 2001 authorization to combat Al Qaeda.
To do so, he suggested placing strict limitations in the plan. "It should have a time limit, it should be sunsetted. It should be geographically limited," he said, adding another restriction beyond what Obama has proposed. "And then the trickiest part is how do you limit it operationally. I am 100 percent opposed to a full-on U.S. combat operation. "¦ How do you draw that line? You can't say no boots on the ground because we've already got boots on the ground."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said the AUMF could come before his chamber next month, and Rep. Eliot Engel, ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he expects it to come up for votes in "the next several weeks."
Meanwhile, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is in the midst of hammering out a version of an AUMF that its members can support. It's one that would likely describe the place, time, duration and permissible conduct—and would be unlikely to include boots on the ground, Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison said.
"I recognize the president is dealing with a difficult problem," Ellisonsaid. "You cannot ignore these homicidal maniacs, you can't do it. The question is how do you keep Americans safe and diminish the threat. And we have to think more broadly than just military action."