Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine said in an interview published Monday that, if elected, Hillary Clinton would quickly ask Congress for fresh legal authority to make war on the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist groups around the world.
“Hillary has said that that’s something she wants to do very early in her administration,” the Virginia senator said. He made his remarks in an interview with “The Axe Files,” hosted by David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Obama.
Kaine said the former secretary of state will press lawmakers to rewrite the Sept. 14, 2001, Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that set the stage for the invasion of Afghanistan and has underpinned the entire war on terrorism. Obama has invoked the measure to argue that his undeclared but escalating war on ISIS is legal, a position Kaine had previously dismissed as an “Alice in Wonderland” strategy.
Clinton believes that “it’s time for us to take that now-outdated authorization, and really think about what we are confronting, and work together to reach some legislative-executive accord about what it is we’re doing,” Kaine told Axelrod. “It’s time for Congress to get back in the game and refine and revise that authorization.”
Seventy percent of the current Congress wasn’t in office when lawmakers approved the 2001 AUMF, and America’s terrorist enemies have “morphed and changed,” the senator argued.
Obama called in a May 2013 speech for revising and repealing the 2001 AUMF, saying it was time to get America off “a perpetual wartime footing.” His top aides have since admitted that the job will fall to the next president.
No lawmaker has worked harder than Kaine to get Congress to debate and vote on an AUMF that specifically covers the Islamic State.
“We have allowed President Obama to wage an executive war of his own choosing without any congressional permission for nearly two years,” Kaine told Virginia Military Institute cadets at their graduation in mid-May. “It’s not hard to imagine that a future president will use this example to also justify initiating war without the permission of Congress.”
Clinton had sent mixed messages about whether she would seek a new AUMF, but lined up earlier this year squarely behind her running mate’s view.
A spokesman for her campaign, Jesse Lehrich, told Yahoo News in July that the former secretary of state “agrees with Senator Kaine that if we are serious about confronting ISIS, Congress ought to express its resolve to stand behind our military and win this fight by passing a new AUMF.”
After stalling at the request of vulnerable Democratic lawmakers facing the 2014 midterm elections, Obama finally submitted an ISIS-specific AUMF to Congress in February 2015, but it’s essentially dead.
The legislation reflected his national security aides’ desire that it not tie his hands. The document authorized airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in the following three years. It forbade the use of American ground troops in “enduring offensive ground combat operations” — a term the White House described as deliberately vague. It also allowed strikes against “individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL” anywhere in the world.
Democrats have balked at supporting such a sweeping measure. Republicans have pointed to the three-year limit and the ground-combat language to argue that the AUMF improperly binds the hands of Obama’s successor.
The truth of the matter is that both sides see political peril in the president’s proposal. Democrats recall how voting in favor of the Iraq War helped to doom Clinton’s 2008 presidential ambitions. And Republicans, who could vote to remove the language they describe as objectionable, prefer to criticize Obama’s handling of the conflict without taking any steps that might make them co-owners of the strategy.