WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s request to authorize military force against Islamic State has made little progress since he sent it to Congress, and it may never pass, due largely to opposition from his fellow Democrats.
Obama asked Congress for an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against Islamic State a month ago, after agitation from lawmakers worried that the military campaign he began in August overstepped his constitutional authority.
Congressional leaders anticipated quick hearings and votes on the plan, which proposed a three-year time frame for the campaign and repealing the 2002 authorization used for the Iraq War.
But it met with instant, deep disapproval.
Republicans, who control Congress and criticize Obama’s foreign policy as too passive, want stronger measures against the militants and fewer limits on the use of U.S. combat troops than included in the plan.
But more serious opposition came from Obama’s fellow Democrats, who demanded a strict time limit for any combat troops. Many also want to repeal the 2001 AUMF the Obama administration has been using to justify the anti-Islamic State campaign.
“This AUMF, hardly anybody supports it that I know of,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch told reporters.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee set its first major AUMF hearing, with testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, for Wednesday.
The panel’s chairman, Republican Senator Bob Corker, said he planned one or two more hearings. But without support from Democrats, he said he was not sure how it would move ahead.
“One of the things we don’t want to do is embark on a path that leads nowhere,” he told reporters.
Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, does not support Obama’s plan as proposed.
The hearings process has barely begun in the House, where compromise between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats is even rarer than in the Senate.
Both lawmakers and aides said they expected it would be months, if ever, before the full House and Senate vote.
“Time is not on our side,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a leading advocate for a new AUMF, told Reuters.
“The longer we go into this conflict without a resolution, the more members become comfortable with the status quo and failure to act ... that would be an appalling result,” he said.
Some lawmakers insisted compromise was possible.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy acknowledged the process was slow. But he insisted that Obama’s draft could be changed enough to attract Democrats and moderate Republicans.
“There is an authorization, with reasonable restrictions, that can get 60 votes in the Senate, but we haven’t even tried to get there yet,” he told Reuters.
The Obama administration has shown no immediate concern that its proposal might die in Congress.
“We remain open to reasonable adjustments that are consistent with the president’s policy and that can garner bipartisan support,” said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “However, it is ultimately up to Congress to pass a new authorization.”
Ultimately, the AUMF will make little difference for the campaign Obama began in August with air strikes in Iraq and later expanded to Syria.
Obama says the 2001 AUMF gives him all the authority he needs, although he wants Congress’s approval to show not just the militants, but the world, a united front.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis