Congress May Finally Authorize Force Against ISIS, with Help from Lindsey Graham
Policy + Politics

Congress May Finally Authorize Force Against ISIS, with Help from Lindsey Graham

REUTERS/Jason Reed

Lindsey Graham is poised to influence the 2016 presidential election in a way he never did as a White House contender.

The South Carolina Republican, who dropped out of the GOP primary in December due to low poll numbers, received a boost on Thursday when a wide-ranging authorization he wrote for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS was fast-tracked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

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The war powers resolution can skip consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and move straight to the floor for a vote, though one hasn’t been scheduled yet.

Graham’s resolution places no geographic limits on U.S. military operations against ISIS, contains no restrictions on the deployment of troops to battle the extremist group, and offers no timeline for ending the effort.

Getting McConnell’s nod for his AUMF is a victory for Graham, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who used his long-shot candidacy to draw attention to national security issues.

If Graham’s AUMF does get a vote, it will put his former 2016 rivals on the spot about how far they are willing to go to defeat the terror group. A vote against the resolution could be used to paint contenders as weak on national security, which has fast become the No. 1 concern among voters, and force candidates not in the Senate to comment on the proposal. A vote on the AUMF has a potential political benefit for McConnell, as well. Such a highly-charged vote will no doubt make it into campaign ads this November when Republicans will be fighting to maintain their Senate majority.

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It could also have an impact on the Democratic Party primary, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeks to blunt the momentum of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire by focusing on foreign policy. A ‘no’ vote by Sanders would give Clinton a new opening to paint Sanders as too unproven to destroy ISIS.

The proposal goes far beyond the AUMF President Obama submitted to Congress nearly a year ago. That resolution arrived with a thud, as members reacted to language prohibiting “enduring” ground operations. Republicans argued the vague text boxed in military leaders, while Democrats thought it opened the door to another long-term U.S. commitment in the Middle East. The AUMF also expired after three years, unless reauthorized.

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Since then, multiple war powers resolutions have been floated by both parties, none of which gained traction.

Earlier this month House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) tasked key committee chairs with holding “listening sessions” to determine what rank-and-file members would like to see an AUMF, though some thought the push would ultimately prove futile since McConnell previously played down the idea of taking up a resolution in the last year of Obama’s presidency, making his move on Thursday all the more surprising.