The Cable

In About-Face, Obama Consults Republicans on Ebola, Islamic State

The day after midterm elections gave Republicans control of the Senate, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he will reach out to Republicans on two key foreign-policy issues — the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the self-proclaimed Islamic State — on which he acted independently before Election Day. In September, the Obama administration ...

Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The day after midterm elections gave Republicans control of the Senate, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he will reach out to Republicans on two key foreign-policy issues — the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the self-proclaimed Islamic State — on which he acted independently before Election Day.

In September, the Obama administration used creative budgeting to address Ebola in West Africa. Despite resistance from Congress, the Pentagon found ways to shift money between accounts to come up with cash necessary to fund operations there until Congress relented and released the money in October.

The Obama administration  launched airstrikes against the Islamic State without asking Congress, citing the 2001 authorization to use military force against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In this case, many lawmakers didn’t complain about being bypassed and kept their distance from Obama’s plan because there was no guarantee it would work. This proved convenient on the campaign trail when the effectiveness of president’s strategy to stop the group came into question.

Now, after Democrats lost an election that was a referendum on the president’s policies, Obama plans to bring Congress into the fold on both issues.

"Today, the administration announced it is seeking $6.18 billion through an emergency funding request to Congress to enhance our comprehensive efforts to address this urgent situation," read a White House statement about the Ebola outbreak. "To help meet both immediate and longer-term requirements, $4.64 billion is requested for immediate response and $1.54 billion is requested as a Contingency Fund to ensure that there are resources available to meet the evolving nature of the epidemic."

During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Obama added that he would consult Congress on a new military force authorization during a bipartisan meeting of Democratic and Republican leaders at the White House this Friday.

Obama said his goal is to work with Congress to "right size and update" the authorization that was issued in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks "to suit the current fight rather than [past] fights."

"We now have a different type of enemy, the strategy is different, how we partner with Iraq and other Gulf countries and the international coalition, that has to be structured differently. So it makes sense that the authorization from Congress reflects what we perceive to be not just our strategy over the next two or three months, but our strategy going forward," Obama said.

Whether Obama’s conciliatory tone will convince Republicans that he’s serious about working together remains to be seen. Earlier in the day, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will lead the Senate in the 114th Congress, said that he and other Republicans would attempt to find ways to work with the president.

"The American people have spoken. They’ve given us divided government. The question for the president and my members is what are we going to do with it? And I want to look first for areas we can agree on," McConnell said Wednesday at a news conference at the University of Louisville. 

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