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Mitch McConnell: Obama Needs Congressional Authorization for War With ISIS

The top Senate Republican on Tuesday said President Barack Obama must seek congressional approval for his expanded military operation against the Islamic State militant group. The Senate minority leader noted that convincing lawmakers should be an easy task given the recent surge of "hawkish" sentiment in Congress, including among some of its most liberal members. ...

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The top Senate Republican on Tuesday said President Barack Obama must seek congressional approval for his expanded military operation against the Islamic State militant group. The Senate minority leader noted that convincing lawmakers should be an easy task given the recent surge of "hawkish" sentiment in Congress, including among some of its most liberal members.

"When Elizabeth Warren begins to sound like Dick Cheney you know that there’s pretty broad bipartisan support here for dealing with this group of terrorists," said Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, referring to the junior senator from Massachusetts and the former vice president. "The president should be seeking congressional approval, period, for whatever he decides to do because that’s the way you hear from those of us who represent the rest of the country."

McConnell’s stance contrasts starkly with that of other congressional leaders, such as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who have yet to press the Obama administration on the war powers issue. Following a meeting with the four leaders on Tuesday, the president appeared unlikely to bend to McConnell’s request, reaffirming that he already has the authority necessary to combat the Islamic State, according to a White House statement. 

The Kentucky Republican, who is in a tight re-election battle, said the Islamic State’s takeover of territory in Iraq and Syria is the only foreign-policy issue that has generated interest among his constituents — a fact not intended to cast doubt upon the Bluegrass State’s cosmopolitanism.

"This is the first time anything outside of the borders of the United States has come up this year in my campaign; people are clearly following and realize there is a threat to the United States," McConnell said.

President Obama is being pressured by all sides to define his counter-Islamic State strategy, a fever pitch accelerated by the videotaped beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the terrorist group.

The White House has repeatedly made clear that it believes it has the authority to confront the Islamic State without Congress, though the president told NBC News he’d like congressional "buy-in" in some form or another. The path of least resistance could be including funding for a military operation against the Islamic State in a must-pass bill to fund the government beyond Sept. 30. Though the measure would not authorize war, it would coincide with consultations about the effort to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State without saddling lawmakers with a difficult vote ahead of the midterms.

As McConnell noted during his press conference, Islamic State atrocities have boosted popular support for an air campaign, including by some staunch progressives. During an interview last week, Warren said the White House should make destroying the terrorist group its top priority. "ISIS is growing in strength. It has money, it has organization, it has the capacity to inflict real damage. So when we think about a response, we have to think about how to destroy that," she said.

Warren did not respond to a request for comment about her compatibility with Dick Cheney’s worldview.

Other Democrats have struck a more defiant tone, noting that the Constitution gives Congress — and Congress only — authority to declare war. "This is something that we have a constitutional obligation to take up and to vote and to authorize," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. "My guess is that the president won’t ask for [authorization]. But that doesn’t prevent us from taking it up ourselves. We’re not some suitor that has to be waited to be asked to the dance."

The president and congressional leaders met at the White House Tuesday afternoon to discuss the crisis in Iraq and Syria. According to a readout of the meeting provided by a Boehner aide, the president put forward a range of ideas already discussed publicly about combatting the threat of the Islamic State. Obama will address the country in a prime-time speech on Wednesday night.

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