Those partisan fissures look set to grow. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and General Martin Dempsey will make the administration's opening pitch before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for an updated authorization for use of military force. The hearing will be an opportunity for members to voice concerns and criticisms of the administration's strategy against ISIS. But it also will give senators what they have wanted all along—input on how the U.S. moves forward.
However, debating the nitty gritty details of an AUMF could reveal intraparty schisms amongst Democrats and Republicans, as well as limit Obama's options as commander in chief.
The finer points of the AUMF already have revealed frictions among Republicans and Democrats. Some hawkish Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, worry it limits the president too much and inhibits the U.S. from debilitating the enemy. Meanwhile, war-weary Democrats want clearer language to be written in to ensure that U.S. troops won't be ensnared in another Middle Eastern conflict for years to come.
To battle ISIS, Obama is requesting a three-year AUMF that limits, but does not rule out, the use of ground troops, and requires him to report progress to Congress every six months. His request leaves the 2001 Bush-drafted AUMF—the same one the White House has been relying on as rationale to intervene with airstrikes in Syria and Iraq—in place, but it's the first chance that senators will have to get their fingerprints on a new ISIS strategy.
Whether that can actually make it to the Senate floor or not for a vote, however, is still uncertain.
"Oh, the AUMF is dead on arrival ... it won't work," Graham told National Journal, conceding that Republicans and Democrats are simply too far apart. "I want to keep it really simple. Do what you need to to destroy and degrade ISIS wherever they are located, period. ... I think the libertarians and the liberals would say 'no.'
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker contends that there is not a single Democrat he knows of who supports the president's AUMF as it stands, and few in his party who are comfortable with further restricting it, as Democrats want to do. That is an "interesting" place to begin, Corker told reporters Tuesday, especially considering that any AUMF approval could have little impact on a conflict the White House is already engaged in.
"A lot of energy went into the fact that the president sent an AUMF and all of that," Corker says. "I think we all know, at present, whether we pass an AUMF or don't pass an AUMF has zero effect on what is happening on the ground, none, zero."
The Obama administration claimed that it had the authority to strike ISIS months ago, but an AUMF debate is still a gamble for the president, who has turned to Congress before for input on issues of national security and was left without a clear option to move forward. In 2013, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed a "red line" and unleashed chemical weapons on the Syrian people, Obama stalled his own plan to conduct limited airstrikes in the country and asked Congress, instead, for permission to act. Eventually Obama's request became irrelevant because Assad agreed to turn over chemical weapons.