WASHINGTON — A Democratic senator from Florida says he will introduce legislation giving President Barack Obama congressional authority for airstrikes against militants in Syria. The announcement came after the apparent beheading of another U.S. journalist.
The legislation from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., would trigger a heated debate in Congress. Many lawmakers are dissatisfied with the White House strategy to contain militants who call themselves Islamic State, but others are loath to vote on a thorny foreign policy issue before the November election.
The senator, a member of the Armed Services Committee, joins others who believe the U.S. already has authority to conduct a military campaign, but Nelson said Tuesday that his legislation would “ensure there’s no question.”
“We must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition that can stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty,” said Nelson, using an acronym for the group’s former name, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Florida is home to the family of the journalist, Stephen J. Sotloff, whose apparent beheading was depicted on video as retaliation for continued airstrikes in Iraq. Last month, the beheading of another U.S. journalist, James Foley, was shown on video, with the militants then threatening Sotloff on camera. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” one militant said.
Congress has remained largely on the sidelines as Obama has conducted more than 100 airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq and considers strikes in Syria.
Confronted with a request for authority to conduct airstrikes in Syria last year, Congress declined to vote on a White House proposal after a chemical weapons attack on civilians believe to be linked to President Bashar Assad. Lawmakers had returned to the Capital early from their summer recess to weigh the issue. This year, Congress is still on summer break.
This year’s debate over Islamic State appears poised to similarly splinter Congress between hawkish lawmakers—including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who want bolder action from the White House—and isolationist Republicans and liberal-leaning Democrats less inclined to engage in a potentially costly and protracted war.
Last week, Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., warned against “another slippery slope of war,” and said that if the president envisions broader engagement in Iraq or Syria, “the administration needs to come to Congress” to seek authorization.
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