WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff Wednesday introduced narrowly crafted legislation authorizing the Obama administration to wage a limited, three-year war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria while prohibiting the use of ground troops.
Schiff's bill, which is similar to legislation the California Democrat introduced last year, will almost certainly face stiff opposition from the Obama administration and Republican leaders in both chambers, all of whom favor a far more expansive authorization.
But his bill stakes out an early, bright-line position for the growing coalition of lawmakers who favor reining in the administration's ability to essentially wage unlimited war against terrorists.
"There is no doubt that our current offensive amounts to war, and Congress should take action both to authorize its prosecution and to set limits on that authorization so it may not be used by any future administration in a manner contrary to our intent," Schiff said in a statement.
The White House's current war effort against ISIS has been conducted under a 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force bill originally designed to respond to al-Qaeda's attacks on the United States in 2001.
But that 60-word law has been read extremely broadly by the Bush and Obama administrations to allow for attacks in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That has led to bipartisan charges that the executive branch has overstepped its authority, and a growing number of Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have called for tighter limits on the war effort.
In addition to barring the use of ground troops, the new AUMF would also sunset in three years, as well as sunset the 2001 AUMF at that time. Additionally, Schiff's bill would be "geographically limited" to contain counter terrorism war efforts to Iraq and Syria.
Although the White House and hawks in both parties have argued tying the administration's hands is inappropriate, Schiff argued the overly broad interpretation of the existing AUMF should give Congress pause.
"If circumstances change, they should come to the Congress and make the case" for an expanded AUMF, Schiff told BuzzFeed News in an interview Tuesday evening. But "given how previous authorizations have been broadly construed, we would be wise to tailor this one to the current circumstances," Schiff added.
House Speaker John Boehner has committed to bringing legislation to the floor in the coming months, and the White House is expected to work with lawmakers in drafting a separate AUMF that would give the president the kind of broad latitude he enjoys under the existing AUMF.
But Schiff warned that approach is likely to run into stiff bipartisan resistance.
"I think there's a real reluctance in Congress to write a blank check," Schiff said.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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