Ga. Dems take supportive but skeptical look at Obama’s war bill

Congress will have its six-months-late say on the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State in a war debate that will not fall easily on partisan lines and could prove painful for the administration.

Conversations with Georgia’s four U.S. House Democrats last week revealed the contrasting views even among President Barack Obama’s base supporters, as Obama’s proffered authorization for the use of military force is reshaped in the coming months.

The war was not on the agenda when the Congressional Black Caucus met with Obama last week in a domestic policy-focused session at the White House. But after the president sent his proposal on Wednesday, Rep. Hank Johnson, a Lithonia Democrat who sits on the Armed Services Committee, presented the bill to his CBC colleagues in a weekly caucus meeting — with his endorsement.

“On issues of war and peace, as difficult as they may be, Congress must assert its authority,” Johnson said in a statement. “While it is not always politically popular, it is appropriate and necessary. We must strike a balance between providing the current administration with the authorities it needs to ensure national security, while safeguarding against future executive branch overreach.”

Obama narrowed the resolution in order to find support from those who blanched at America's recent pair of decade-long foreign entanglements. The bill would repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization, expire in three years and allow ground troops only in "limited circumstances."

Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta said the end date was a big selling point for him, though he has not made up his mind on the vote.

“I voted against Iraq and I voted for Afghanistan,” Lewis said. “I just don’t want to see us get involved in another, but I know we must do something.”

Others fear Obama’s request is too weak. Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat who serves on the NATO parliamentary assembly, would prefer it not have an expiration date.

Obama has “got a legacy he wants to do,” Scott said. “He came in being an anti-war president, which is wonderful. We’re all anti-war, but I’m just saying we’ve got to base this resolution as clearly and succinctly as possible so that we’re not putting our military in a position where they can’t win.

“And as I see the resolution now, it is not strong enough.”

The 2002 Iraq war vote — the last time Congress authorized military force — continues to cast a long shadow. Just ask Hillary Clinton how long such a vote can stick with you.

Rep. Sanford Bishop, an Albany Democrat, represents Fort Benning, where all the Army's infantry and armor soldiers begin their training. He said the last Iraq debate "of course" has a bearing on what's happening now — but recent actions by the Islamic State, which is also commonly known as ISIS and ISIL, cry out for intervention.

“We’ve all been watching the news and been watching events as they have evolved over in the area,” Bishop said. “The atrocities that have been committed by ISIL, the Americans who have been beheaded and otherwise killed as well as some of the citizens of our allied countries, clearly making it beyond the shadow of a doubt that (the Islamic State) is a threat. It’s a threat to the American people. It’s a clear and present danger.”

A brief recess, then a flurry of stories

After six consecutive weeks in session, the 114th Congress has broken for its first weeklong recess.

All-Republican rule has not been entirely smooth, but fresh off a trip Thursday to the White House, where he witnessed President Barack Obama sign a law to fight veterans' suicides, Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson struck an optimistic tone.

In addition to the Clay Hunt Suicide Protection for American Veterans Act, Obama has signed a terrorism risk insurance bill. Both houses of Congress passed a bill to force the president to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which he has vowed to veto.

Even with Senate Democrats repeatedly blocking debate on a measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security while striking Obama executive actions on immigration, Isakson said the upper chamber has been effective.

“We did more in six weeks in real work and productive work than we did in a year last year — by the way, Sen. (Mitch) McConnell is running the Senate,” Isakson said. “That makes it exciting.”

In the coming months, a series of deadlines loom for DHS funding, Medicare reimbursement cuts for doctors, a budget resolution, a depleted highway trust fund and the always thrilling debt ceiling.

“You’re going to not have to work too hard to come up with stories,” Isakson said.

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The U.S. Senate voted 93-5 Thursday to confirm Ashton Carter as secretary of defense.

Yes: U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and David Perdue, R-Ga.