VA Lawmakers Weigh in on War

Jun 23, 2015

  Virginia lawmakers are trying to force Congress to debate the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria, but congressional leaders don’t seem to want the debate. 

There’s no debate that the U-S is at war. The Obama administration has asked Congress to approve its war authorization plan, yet party leaders have refused to make it a priority.

“It’s time for us to have this debate.”

That’s Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. He crafted a bipartisan amendment this month that attempted to thread the needle between Democrats who don’t want ground troops to be deployed and Republican hawks who don’t want Congress to tie the president’s hands.

“Basically what it says, unlike the December version which said no ground troops except ABCD, this just says the President can take action against ISIL but then it has a purpose clause that says, the purpose of this authorization is to protect American lives and to support regional partners and their battle against ISIL.”

Kaine says his latest attempt shows that both sides of the aisle have to give a little.

“But it’s not as prescriptive as the Dems would like and not as open ended as the R’s would like but this is our best effort to find something that could be bi-partisan.” 

It’s a different story in the House. Democrats used parliamentary tactics to force a vote last week which would have removed all U-S troops from Iraq and Syria. It failed largely along party lines. Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Rigell opposed that effort, but says it’s time for Congress to weigh in.

“The President has done the right thing in asking for an authorization for use of military force against ISIS. And we have a duty in this institution Congress -- House and Senate -- to respond in a timely manner and to debate and seek to provide the President a definitive response.”

Rigell says Republican leaders are hiding behind the fact that Washington remains divided because a Democrat is in the White House.

“Now, the reasons that this is not being done, at least the ones that have been offered to me, I find to be completely unsatisfactory. "Well, we're not sure that we could come to an agreement," - that's not a good answer to me. It maybe that "we object to what the President wants to do," - well, that is in itself a response.”

Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith says he’s also frustrated with his party’s leaders.“We ought to be writing our own, we didn’t need to wait on the President in the first place. I disagree with leadership.”

And one of Virginia’s newest Republicans, Dave Brat, says lawmakers are too distracted, and he wishes they would take the time to have a thoughtful debate on the war against the Islamic State.

“We’re just too hurried and busy up here. That’s one of the most fundamental issues right now; the Middle East is tinder box and so we need to slow things down, prioritize and spend time on the most important issues and that’s one of them.”

But some Republicans from Virginia say voting on the ongoing war isn’t the top priority facing Congress this summer. With Democrats threatening to filibuster defense spending, and the president threatening to veto the defense authorization bill, Virginia Republican Randy Forbes says that’s where the focus should be.

"And I think the number one thing that leadership in Congress is doing is funding the National Defense Authorization Bill and the defense appropriations. I think it’s a travesty, if you want to look at travesties that the President or the Secretary of Defense would say that we shouldn’t fund our troops until we have given IRS and EPA everything they want. That’s the real travesty.”

Still, Senator Kaine and Congressman Rigell say they’re not going to give up their push to have a debate and eventually a vote on the war. But many Republicans accuse President Obama of punting on the issue, and waiting for the next president to tackle the complex problem that many say is the Middle East. For most Virginia lawmakers, that’s not good enough, but they seem to be in the minority.