Sen. Chris Murphy says he would be "very unlikely" to support expanding America's military campaign against the brutal ISIL militia from Iraq into neighboring Syria. But the Connecticut Democrat says President Obama must seek explicit authorization from Congress if he decides to widen the conflict.
While a vote on launching a new U.S. intervention in the Middle East might put vulnerable Democrats further at risk come November, that's not an excuse for Congress not to act, Murphy told Yahoo News by telephone on Thursday.
"This decision is too important to allow politics or elections to play a role," he said. "It may be inconvenient that ISIS [another name for ISIL] has become a threat on the precipice of an election, but we have a responsibility as a coequal branch to do our constitutional job, regardless of the timing."
Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns about a potential vote that could anger the party's war-weary base or hand Republicans political ammunition.
Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, underlined that he could not say definitively how he would vote, because Obama has yet to share his plans with Congress.
But "I have an extreme degree of skepticism about military intervention in Syria," said the senator, who is not up for re-election this year. "It's going to be hard to justify."
Murphy noted that, one year ago, Obama dropped his plans for strikes against forces loyal to Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad when he could not persuade Congress to authorize using force.
"The complexities of that conflict have only expanded since the president met congressional resistance a year ago on his initial plans for intervention in Syria," said Murphy, who worried aloud that striking ISIL "would have the consequence of empowering Assad."
Murphy spoke before Obama poured cold water Thursday on any suggestion that he was poised to order military action against ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State). "We don’t have a strategy yet," the president said.
Obama promised to consult Congress, "in part because it may cost some money," a step that might require a vote.
"Funding is not authorization," Murphy said. "We have to pass a new authorization [for use] of military force in order to continue hostilities against ISIS. Simply appropriating money for the fight is not appropriate authorization."
And Obama can forget about claiming that existing law, such as the 2001 measure that authorized the invasion of Afghanistan, gives him a green light, the senator said.
"I do not think that there is any current legal authorization to open a long-term war against ISIS," he said.
Murphy pointed to the 1973 War Powers Act, which requires presidents to get congressional authorization for military deployments after 60 days. There is an additional 30-day period to allow for a withdrawal.
"At the end of the War Powers time frame, it would be my belief that he needs an authorization from Congress to continue hostilities against ISIS in Iraq or in Syria," Murphy said.
"This is a big decision, whether or not we open up a new military front against ISIS. It is a commitment that will bind the United States to new hostilities in the Middle East," he said, warning it could last "months if not years" and cost "billions of dollars."
Congress has to have a voice, he said, in "who we fight and who we don’t fight."