Senate hearing set on role of Congress in military actions
By BILL BARTEL | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: December 6, 2014
(TNS) — Tim Kaine and other senators who for months have loudly opposed President Barack Obama's use of military forces against Islamic State terrorists without congressional approval are going to get their hearing next week.
On Thursday, a day after Kaine scolded Obama – and Congress for failing to challenge the president – in a floor speech, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez called for a committee hearing Monday. It's expected to be followed days later by a vote on legislation that could set limits on Obama's use of military strikes.
It remains unclear whether the committee action will lead to a Senate floor debate before Congress adjourns this month and Democrats turn over leadership of the chamber to a Republican majority.
"We will now have the opportunity to engage in a meaningful, transparent debate on the U.S. military mission against ISIL, as I've been calling for since military action began nearly four months ago," Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said in a statement referring to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. "We owe it to our service members and the American people to have this debate and take this vote before adjourning for the year."
Kaine, a strong supporter of Obama since the early days of his first presidential campaign, broke ranks with him on the war powers issue, arguing that the president is limited to ordering military actions to defend the U.S. when the country is attacked or a threat is imminent.
He and many others don't object to confronting the Islamic State group but argue that only Congress is empowered by the Constitution to approve offensive military action. Congress should set limits on the use of force, Kaine said.
The president's decision in September to begin airstrikes against the terrorists in Syria and Iraq sets a "terrible precedent," Kaine said.
Any legislation that emerges from the committee is expected to be similar to proposals by Kaine and others. Those measures would authorize the use of force against the Islamic State -- including airstrikes -- but place limits on military action.
Kaine's bill would prohibit the use of ground troops except for rescue missions and "limited operations against high-value targets." It would expire in one year unless renewed by Congress and would require the White House to give legislators a list of groups that might be covered by the authorization because they are associated with the Islamic State.
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has called for limiting U.S. operations to three years and allowing ground forces in some circumstances. His plan would compel Obama to provide Congress with a comprehensive strategy and repeal the Bush administration's 2002 Iraq war authorization.
Menendez lamented the administration's refusal, in his words, to send witnesses for a hearing on a new military authorization. He indicated Thursday that he hoped Secretary of State John Kerry or another senior official might appear at Monday's hearing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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