May 07, 2015

9 Months Into War Against ISIL, Kaine Presses For Passage Of New Authorization For Use Of Military Force

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the eve of the 9-month anniversary of the U.S. launching military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, delivered remarks on the Senate floor, challenging his congressional colleagues to finally have a meaningful debate and vote on the U.S. mission against ISIL. Kaine pointed out that over the past 9 months of war, the U.S. has deployed thousands of troops - including the Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group based in Norfolk - conducted more than 3,000 airstrikes, spent more than $2 billion American taxpayer dollars and seen the loss of American servicemembers, as well as American hostages killed by ISIL in barbaric ways. And yet, Congress has still not taken any formal steps to authorize this war.

“The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful. How can we explain to our troops, our public or ourselves this complete unwillingness of Congress to take up this important responsibility?” Kaine asked. “This Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power, even threatening him with lawsuits over immigration actions and other executive decisions, is strangely silent and allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.”

Kaine made the case that it is immoral to keep asking U.S. servicemembers to risk their lives without Congress debating this mission and reaching the conclusion that it is in the nation’s best interest.

“I hope we remember that right now, in places far from their homes and families, thousands of members of the American Armed Forces are risking their lives on behalf of a mission that Congress has refused to address for 9 long months,” Kaine concluded. “Their sacrifice should call us to step up, do our job and finally define and authorize this ongoing war.”

Since June 2014, Kaine has been a leading voice urging the Obama administration to seek a specific authorization for U.S. military action against ISIL while pressing his congressional colleagues to debate and vote on the mission – one he believes goes well beyond the legal scope and intent of existing authorizations from 2001 and 2002.

Full transcript below:

Mr. President, I rise today to commemorate an anniversary and challenge my colleagues in Congress.

Today marks the completion of nine months of America’s war against ISIL.  Tomorrow, May 8, starts the tenth month of this war. 

In the war on ISIL, here is what’s happened so far. We’ve deployed thousands of troops far from home to support military operations in Iraq and Syria—a significant number are from Virginia, including the Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, based in Norfolk. We’ve conducted more than 3,000 U.S. airstrikes on ISIL from land bases in the region and also from aircraft carriers. We’ve spent more than 2 billion American taxpayer dollars and counting. We’ve lost the lives of American servicemembers and seen American hostages killed by ISIL in barbaric ways. And while we’ve seen some progress on the battlefield in Iraq, we’ve also witnessed ISIL spread and take responsibility for attacks in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.   We’ve seen other terrorist groups, such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram, pledge alliance with ISIL.   We’ve seen acts of terrorism in Europe and now the United States that have been influenced or at least inspired by ISIL.

All this has happened in nine months. But here is what hasn’t happened, Mr. President.  Congress, the Article I branch, whose most solemn power is the duty to declare war, has not done its job, has not debated this war, has not taken any formal steps to authorize what was started unilaterally by the President 9 months ago.

As of today, ISIL has no indication whether Congress cares one iota about the ongoing war. Our allies in the region, who are most directly affected by the threat of ISIL, have no indication whether Congress cares one iota about the ongoing war.  And, most importantly, the thousands of American troops serving in the region, serving in the theater of battle have no indication whether Congress cares one iota about this ongoing war.

In the Senate, there has been no authorization vote or even debate on the floor.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee did report out a war authorization in December, but it died without floor action at the end of the 113th Congress. In the House, there has been no debate or authorization on the floor,  and, in fact, there has been no action in any House Committee in the 9 months of this war.

The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful. How can we explain to our troops, our public or ourselves this complete unwillingness of Congress to take up this important responsibility?

President Obama maintains that the authorizations voted on by Congress in 2001 and 2002 give him the power to wage this war without Congress. Having reviewed the authorizations carefully, I find that claim completely without merit. The 2001 Authorization allows the president to take action against groups that perpetrated the attacks of 9/11. ISIL was not a perpetrator of the 9/11 attack; it was not formed until two years after the attacks in 2003. It is not an ally of Al Qaeda; it’s fighting against Al Qaeda now in certain theaters. The only way the 2001 authorization could be stretched to cover ISIL is if we pretend that it was a blank check giving the president the power to wage war against any terrorist group. But, Mr. President, that was precisely the power that President Bush asked for in 2001, and Congress explicitly refused to grant that broad grant of power to the president even in the days right after the 9/11 attacks.

The 2002 Authorization to wage war in Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein also has no relevance here. That regime disappeared years ago.

The War Powers Resolution of 1973 does grant the president some ability to initiate military action for 60-90 days prior to congressional approval, but it also mandates that the president must cease military activity unless Congress formally approves it.  Here, we’ve blown long past all of the deadlines in that Act, Congress has said nothing, and yet the war continues.

So the President does not have the legal power to maintain this war without Congress. And yet Congress, this Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power, even threatening him with lawsuits over immigration actions and other executive decisions, is strangely silent and allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.

Nine months of silence leaves the impression that Congress is either indifferent about ISIL and the threat that it poses or lacks the backbone to do the job it is supposed to do. And that is why I rise today—to challenge my colleagues to take this seriously and promptly debate and pass an authorization for military action against ISIL. We should have done this months ago. By now, all know that ISIL is not going away soon. This problem will not just solve itself.

Mr. President, I am given some hope by recent actions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and this body on a pending matter – the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. On a challenging and important national security issue, because of strong leadership by Senators Corker, Cardin and Menendez, we have shown the ability to act in a bipartisan way to assert an appropriate congressional role in reviewing any final nuclear deal with Iran. We are taking an important stand for the congressional role in matters touching upon diplomacy, war and peace. And we have fought off, thus far, the temptation to play politics with this important matter.

This gives me some hope that we might do the same with respect to the war on ISIL. Because, Mr. President, the role of Congress in war is undisputable. The framers of the Constitution were familiar with a world where war was for the monarch, or the king, or the sultan or the executive. But they made a revolutionary decision to choose a different path and placed decisions about the initiation of war in the hands of the people’s elected legislative branch. They did so because of an important underlying value. The value is this: we shouldn’t order young servicemembers to risk their lives in a military mission unless Congress has debated the mission and reached the conclusion that it is in the nation’s best interest. That value surely is as important today as it was in 1787.

So to conclude, Mr. President, I hope we remember that right now, in places far from their homes and families, thousands of members of the American Armed Forces are risking their lives on behalf of a mission that Congress has refused to address for 9 long months.  Their sacrifice should call us to step up, do our job and finally define and authorize this ongoing war.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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