02.01.15

Democrat Seeks To Authorize Operations Against ISIS

Rep. Adam Schiff of California plans to introduce a bill to allow congressional authorization of military operations against ISIS. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Rep. Schiff about the new legislation.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. military campaign against ISIS has been going on since August. And in that time, the U.S. has launched air strikes and trained Iraqi security forces without official authorization from Congress. Right now, the military operations are legal under resolutions passed by Congress shortly after 9/11 and again in 2002. But Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says those laws were written in a different time.

CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF: It was passed in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks. It authorized the use of force against those who were responsible for that attack. Now, we are using it - this administration is using it to go after an organization that didn't exist at the time of 9/11. It certainly doesn't describe well the nature of the conflict we're in now. And I think the administration is on a very slender legal reed when it relies on that for what it's doing.

MARTIN: Tomorrow, Congressman Schiff will introduce a new bill to authorize the use of military force. He explained what it's meant to do.

SCHIFF: The legislation authorizes the president to use force against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. It sunsets the authorization after three years so that it won't go on indefinitely. And it limits it as well in terms of a prohibition on the use of ground forces in a combat mission. But it does basically give the president the authorization that he's sought, and yet at the same time, not provide a blank check.

MARTIN: You have tried to get a bill like this passed before without success mainly because a lot of your colleagues believe that the president already has the authority he needs. Is that not the case?

SCHIFF: I don't think it is the case. And I'm not sure that many of my colleagues believe that either. But I think many in Congress have the content to let the administration to go forward, ironically, because many in Congress consider the president to be an appear a president and usurping to much authority. But in this respect, they're happy to abdicate because they would rather the president have the full responsibility for this in case things go wrong.

MARTIN: Do you have the buy in you want and need from members of your own party on this?

SCHIFF: I think a lot of members of both parties are going to be uncomfortable proceeding much longer without a congressional authorization. And I also think there will be a lot of support for putting some real limits on that authorization given how the two other authorizations continued to be relied upon by the administration. So while there will be some, including in the administration and among the most conservative in Congress, who will push for carte blanche, there are many others of us who believe that while it's necessary for Congress to act, it's also necessary for Congress to put limits on the executive authority.

MARTIN: As you mentioned, your legislation would authorize military operations against ISIS for three years and then expire. Why three years? And then what happens after that?

SCHIFF: Well, originally when I introduced this last year, we had a shorter leash on it. It was a year and a half. Three years will put this beyond the presidential elections so that those won't necessarily interfere in the steady operation of the war if that's still ongoing. So I think three years is a responsible period of time. Importantly, though, it not only sunsets this new authority in three years, but it sunsets that old 2001 authority in the same three years. And that will force Congress and the administration to work together on defining the nature of the conflict both against ISIS and al-Qaida going forward. And I think that's very important. Otherwise, a future administration could say even when the new authority expires, it can still rely on this very old 2001 authorization.

MARTIN: The president himself has said he'd support a new UMF, new military authorization. But he clearly doesn't think he needs it because the administration has moved forward. Is the administration supporting your bill the way you think they should?

SCHIFF: I expect, frankly, some of the limitations that I put in the bill are going to be things that the administration will oppose. And I think they'll seek something broader. But I think there will be a compromise, and hopefully we can reach an agreement. Although, I have to say, it's not going to be easy.

MARTIN: Congressman Adam Schiff of Calif. Thanks so much for talking with us Congressman.

SCHIFF: Thank you.