House GOP ISIS and CR Strategy Still in Flux

Boehner and other House GOP leaders are reportedly on board with adding to the spending bill the president's request for authority to go after ISIS.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Boehner and other House GOP leaders are reportedly on board with adding to the spending bill the president's request for authority to go after ISIS.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 11, 2014 at 11:49am

House GOP leaders are advocating for giving President Barack Obama some authority within the continuing resolution to arm Syrian rebels against the insurgent terrorist group known as the Islamic State or ISIS, according to several Republican lawmakers present at a Thursday morning members’ meeting.  

But those lawmakers also cautioned that discussions on how to proceed were far from over.  

Some Republicans say as long as there is a decisive vote on a response that will adequately address the growing threat of ISIS at home and abroad, they don’t care what legislative vehicle is used.  

“At the end of the day, whether it ends up as a standalone or in the CR, I don’t really understand what the big controversy is over that,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a veteran. “I think it’s a timing issue, I think it’s to get it done … we don’t leave next week without getting it done.” Others would prefer the language not be included in the stopgap spending measure to float the government past Sept. 30, wishing for a separate vote that could range from just honoring Obama’s request for funding for military training to a much broader authorization to use military force in the region.  

“Personally, I’d like it as a separate vote,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “It’s such a serious matter, I think it deserves debate, discussion. How we fund the government for a short period just seems like a different topic from this.”  

And then there’s the question of whether all of this has to happen in the next few weeks, before Congress recesses again for the final campaign sprint ahead of the midterm elections. For instance, can’t Congress grant Obama his specific request for military training funding and then go back to debate a more comprehensive strategy later on?  

There are plenty of House Republicans who don’t believe Obama needs Congress to vote on a new authorization to use military force, such as Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. Others, such as Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., feel strongly that Congress does need to take that vote. Meanwhile, Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said Wednesday he would prefer the CR not include new ISIS language and that he didn’t see an urgency to rush into things.  

Members are grappling with optics as well as disagreements within the party on how far to go, with many of them dissatisfied with the strategy Obama laid out in his address to the nation Wednesday night and wishing for a more aggressive plan of attack.  

“We have an enemy who is vicious and has to be defeated,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., “and we have to make a decision like we did in World War II: Either we’re in to win or we’re out. And that is not the strategy that the president proposed. I believe that we need to either get in and control our destiny, or we’re out.”  

Another obstacle for the House Republican leadership team — which has a brand new configuration after the resignation of ex-Majority Leader Eric Cantor — is coming up with a legislative response that actually has the votes to pass, and preferably without too much help from the Democrats. The House was meant to vote on a CR on Thursday, but with Obama’s eleventh hour request for ISIS language, the GOP pulled the measure to re-evaluate options.  

Whether adding the Syrian rebel language in the CR would make it harder to pass is still a question with no easy answer.  

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the head of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said whether the language is added to the CR or not, he didn’t think it would make passage any harder. “I think it was the appropriate step to take to wait,” Walden said.  

Democrats will also have to make a decision about what they want and how much leverage they think they have to make demands.  

“Let’s just see what [Republicans] propose, we have no idea what they’ll propose,” said Ways and Means ranking member Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., on Thursday. “We don’t know what’s in the CR … Republicans just don’t seem to make clear what they want to do.”  

Matt Fuller contributed to this report.

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