Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered members a snow-weekend surprise late Wednesday night: Quietly teeing up a potential debate on the legal underpinning for the fight against ISIS.
After months of worrying that such a resolution—known as an authorization for the use of military force—would tie the next president’s hands, McConnell’s move to fast-track the measure surprised even his top deputy, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, who was unaware that McConnell had set up the authorization.
“He did?” Cornyn asked National Journal on Thursday morning.
The AUMF put forward by McConnell would not restrict the president’s use of ground troops, nor have any limits related to time or geography. Nor would it touch on the issue of what to do with the 2001 AUMF, which the Obama administration has used to attack ISIS despite that authorization’s instructions to use force against those who planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks. By contrast, the legal authority put forward by the administration last February wouldn’t authorize “enduring offensive ground combat operations” and would have ended three years after enactment, unless reauthorized.
After sitting on the president’s proposed AUMF for nearly a year, amid deep infighting in the Senate over the measure, McConnell’s move came as a surprise to many members. Just in December, McConnell dismissed the idea of bringing up a new authorization, telling reporters: “It’s clear the president does not have a strategy in place, so it would be hard to figure out how to authorize a non-strategy.”