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Lawmakers Urge Boehner To Act On Obama's Use Of Force Request


The U.S. has been bombing the self-proclaimed Islamic State since last summer. President Obama says he has all the legal authority he needs to do that. Still, he asked Congress for specific authority to use military force against ISIS. That was more than two months ago. And the response from Congress, which alone has the power to declare war, has amounted to a collective shrug. Well, now two prominent House members have begun a bipartisan drive to get Congress to act. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: A letter being circulated this week for lawmakers signatures is addressed to House Speaker John Boehner. Congress, it tells him, has been derelict in its constitutional duties for taking no action on the air war against ISIS that began last August.

CONGRESSMAN TOM COLE: Constitutionally, war-making authority is like a muscle. If you don't use it, you lose it.

WELNA: That's Oklahoma House Republican Tom Cole. While he's close to Speaker Boehner, he's also the co-author of the letter scolding Boehner for not holding a vote on the use of force authorization being sought by the president.

COLE: You're not sent here to duck decisions. You're sent here to make votes, and this is something that Congress ought to vote on.

WELNA: Whether Congress wants to vote on authorizing this war is another matter. So far, the letter Cole composed with California Democrat Adam Schiff has gotten barely 20 signatures, according to Schiff's office. Schiff intends to keep pushing for more.

CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF: I don't expect, frankly, much as I would like to, that people are going to come rallying to this call. But the only chance, I think, at this point we have of taking this up is if a few of us make enough noise and frankly shame the leadership into doing their constitutional job.

WELNA: But Speaker Boehner hardly seems shamed. Today he dismissed the president's proposed use of force authorization, saying it actually limits the president's military options.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: Until the president gets serious about an overarching strategy to take on the terrorist threat, I don't know why we'd want to give him less authorization than he has today.

WELNA: Things aren't much different on the Senate side of the capital. Bob Corker, the Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he can't see what difference a new use of force authorization would make.

SENATOR BOB CORKER: People wonder why there's not much sense of urgency. Well, the reason is we know that regardless of what happens in the House and Senate, it's not going to change one iota - one iota - not a decimal point of what's happening on the ground.

WELNA: And even if Congress did try to act, says Ben Cardin, the Foreign Relations Panel's top Democrat, it's not clear what the result would be.

SENATOR BEN CARDIN: It's no sense us moving forward if we don't have the critical consensus necessary to enact an authorization use of military force.

WELNA: Here's what Charles Schumer, the New Yorker in line to be the next Senate Democratic leader, had to say when asked if he sees any need for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: I'd have to think about that.

WELNA: John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he actually would like to see some action from his fellow lawmakers.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: But we won't see it 'cause they're too divided. I'd love to see it. I'd love to see pigs fly, but we're not going to see it.

WELNA: The problem, says number-two Senate Democrat Dick Durbin, is that lawmakers prefer that the president own this war.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Congress gets all puffed up about our constitutional right to declare war until the time comes, and then they realize that if we make the wrong decision and it is costly and unpopular, they may pay a political price.

WELNA: The price Congress may pay for taking no action, Durbin and others warn, is increasing irrelevance when a president decides to make war. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.