Top Republican presses Trump to submit war authorization

Top Republican presses Trump to submit war authorization
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A top House Republican is urging President Trump to submit to Congress a new use-of-force resolution governing the country's fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said the “sustained” nature of the U.S. military actions against ISIS demands that Congress grant the president the authority to conduct future operations against the terrorist group. He’s calling on Trump to take the first step. 

“The president ought to submit on his own … a new, you know, request for the authorization and use of military force,” Cole told CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday. “We should debate it and pose the approach limits, if there are, and go from there.”

Trump escalated the military’s involvement in the Middle East earlier this month, firing 59 missiles at an airfield controlled by the Syrian government. The strike was a direct response to a poison gas attack against civilians said to be initiated by Syrian President Bashar Assad days earlier.

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Cole said Trump acted correctly in launching that strike, arguing that the administration was simply enforcing the “red line” established by former President Obama in 2013 in the wake of an even more deadly chemical attack carried out by Assad against civilians.

“He had the right to do that. That was a one-strike thing. I don't think that required congressional approval,” Cole said of Trump.

“But we're in sustained military activity against ISIS. I think that does require a new authorization, because ISIS didn't exist in 2002 and we certainly weren't fighting in Syria and didn't expect to be,” he added.

“So if you are fighting against a new enemy in new places, it seems to me you need a new authorization for the use of military force.” 

Following the recent strike on Syria, a number of Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanFive fights for Trump’s first year Sunday shows preview: Trump stares down 100-day mark Ryan: Focus is on keeping government open, not healthcare MORE (R-Wis.), have urged Trump to confer with Congress about what should come next in the fight against ISIS. But they haven’t gone as far as Cole in calling for a new resolution authorizing the use of military force, known as an AUMF. 

“It is now appropriate for the administration to consult with Congress as it considers next steps to resolve the long-running crisis in Syria,” Ryan’s office said following the strike.

Democrats have been much more aggressive. Behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), they’ve been pushing Ryan to bring an early halt to Congress’s current recess so lawmakers can start debating the future of military operations in Syria. By ignoring the issue, they argue, Congress is shirking its responsibility to protect the separation of powers dictated by the Constitution.

Congress last passed an AUMF in 2002, which authorized the post-9/11 fight in Iraq. A year earlier, lawmakers had passed another AUMF to govern the battle against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and beyond. Those calling now for a new resolution say the existing AUMFs are outdated and no longer apply to the expanded fight against terrorism, which is focused largely in Syria. 

Trump had criticized Obama in 2013, suggesting any military actions in Syria would require congressional clearance.

“The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria –– big mistake if he does not!” Trump, then a reality TV star, tweeted at the time.

In 2015, Obama had proposed a new AUMF designed to dictate the terms of U.S. military involvement in Syria and other Middle Eastern hotspots. But many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle opposed the measure, and GOP leaders, who controlled both chambers of Congress, never considered it.

Cole on Wednesday took a jab at Obama for not proposing an AUMF sooner, but also acknowledged the political difficulties facing leaders of both parties when it comes to voting on new military campaigns more than 15 years after 9/11.

“Frankly, the leadership of both parties in the House has not wanted to have a vote on the use of military force. And …  the reason [is] they want to try to protect their members, Democrats and Republican leaders,” Cole told CNN. 

“[But] the reality is we're paid to vote. And the Constitution is pretty clear on this,” he added. “So I don't think there is any excuse for Congress not taking this up.”

Congress is scheduled to return to Washington on Tuesday.