WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., is leading the charge to officially declare war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, giving the president more sweeping authority to confront an enemy.
This is the first time a declaration of war has been authored by a member of Congress since 1941 — although Congress has authorized use of military force several times since then, including in both Iraq in 2002 and Afghanistan in 2001.
Emmer’s measure would require congressional approval, which is no small hurdle given the political gridlock over the issue. Democrats are hesitant to authorize any ground forces again and many Republicans are wary about giving President Obama more power.
But Emmer, a House freshman, said Thursday he is fed up with the partisan bickering over the strategy Obama should ultimately use against ISIL that claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in France last Friday.
“They’ve committed an unprovoked, horrendous, cowardly but well-planned attack in Paris,” Emmer said in an interview from his office on Capitol Hill. “I think the majority of this country could agree if we do nothing, they will come here. They have put us on notice. It’s not only the repeated unprovoked attacks, in this horrific attack on Paris, it’s the fact they are growing and are getting stronger.”
Emmer said politicians are “stuck” on the authorization of military force.
Since 1955, authorization for military force has been used seven times — including right after 9/11, according to the Congressional Research Service. There is a current White House-backed resolution to extend the previous military force authorization in 2002, against Al-Qaida, to ISIL, but it hasn’t gone anywhere yet.
A declaration of war is more rare and triggers some new power for the president, including the ability to tweak agricultural exports and impose unilateral trade sanctions. Because the Islamic State is not an actual state but a terrorism organization spread across several countries, it is not clear those statutory authorities would be relevant or useful.
Emmer struck out on his own on the issue Thursday. So far no other members of Congress have signed on to the measure.
Obama, on a G-20 trip in Asia, promised earlier this week to redouble efforts to destroy ISIL, though he opposed putting additional U.S. troops on the ground. The terrorist group has issued a threat saying Washington, D.C., was next on the target list.
Emmer declined to say whether he believed American forces should fight ISIL abroad, leaving that to the administration.
“We’ve gotta get past this Republican-Democrat thing,” Emmer said. “The president can then design the strategy with all the resources available to that office before it grows any worse.”
Emmer has asked House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to expedite the vote so it doesn’t have to go through the regular committee process — but he says he hasn’t heard back on whether that will be approved.