Below is the text of the draft letter being circulated to House members by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) urging House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to hold a floor debate and vote on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL. Schiff and Cole plan to send the letter to Boehner’s office later this week after collecting their colleagues’ signatures.
The missive comes one week after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that the White House’s proposed AUMF, sent to Capitol Hill in February, would not garner the votes needed to clear the House. On April 10, Defense Department General Council Stephen Preston reiterated the Obama administration’s position that the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda grants legal authority to conduct the US’s current military operations against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. (Click here to read Just Security’s February Q&A with Schiff on the need for an ISIL-specific AUMF.)
Click through to read the letter.
Dear Speaker Boehner:
Roughly 250 days have passed since the President ordered military action against the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL). Since that time, the United States, along with our coalition allies, has undertaken thousands of strikes against ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq. Like you, we believe that the United States must confront and ultimately destroy the threat of ISIL, which has shown itself to be a barbaric terrorist group, destabilizing the region, killing thousands, and displacing millions more.
However, we are deeply concerned that eight months into Operation Inherent Resolve, the House has taken no action on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which would provide a clear legal justification for the actions against ISIL. While hearings have been held in the House Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, no markup has taken place. The most recent Legislative Memo released by the Majority Leader contains no suggestion that consideration of an AUMF on the floor is imminent. This dereliction of our constitutional duty causes great injury to the Congress, and threatens our role as a check on the President’s power to make war.
The President has claimed legal authority for the strikes under the AUMF passed in 2001 in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Whatever the legal merits of that argument, the 2001 AUMF is at best an inexact fit for the threat posed by ISIL. ISIL came into existence more than a decade after the passage of the 2001 AUMF, and it has at times come into direct conflict with al Qaeda. The far preferable course, which would send the message of unity and strength, is to pass a new AUMF, specific to ISIL and the threat it poses, rather than relying on an ill-fitting and outdated authorization.
The Administration has repeatedly said that it would welcome a new AUMF, specific and tailored to the operations against ISIL. The President, during his State of the Union address, called for Congress to pass a new authority, and in February the Administration transmitted proposed legislative language. We recognize that Members, both Republicans and Democrats, have different views as to how an AUMF should be constructed. However, those differences are all the more reason to allow the House to work its will through the legislative process.
Each additional day that passes without Congress taking up an AUMF for our operations against ISIL undermines our authority and role in matters of war and peace. If we refuse to debate a resolution on the weightiest question any nation faces – whether to take military action – we cede to the Executive Branch a power that the framers intentionally delegated to Congress.
This shirking of our duty will have lasting effects, serving to expand the scope of executive power at the expense of the Congress. We urge you to instruct the appropriate committees to hold a mark-up and to set aside floor time at the earliest possible juncture for the House to debate and vote on an Authorization to Use Military Force against ISIL.