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Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch says Congress should offer President Barack Obama more flexibility in fighting Islamic jihadists in Iraq and Syria, including the use of ground troops and the areas in which they can operate.
Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, says the authorization Obama is seeking from Congress to combat the Islamic State group shouldn't include any artificial or unnecessary limits such as those based on geography, a deadline or a type of force that could hinder America's ability to destroy the group that has seized parts of Middle East and is enforcing a violent form of Shariah law.
"These are restrictions that the Islamic State could use to its advantage," Hatch said on the Senate floor this week. "If we are telling the Islamic State upfront that we will not use ground forces, will they not tailor their strategy around that fact? If we advertise when the authorization expires at an arbitrary date and time, will they not hunker down and wait for that date?"
Obama, who has said he has no intention of putting U.S. troops on the ground in a combat role, is expected this week to request congressional approval for new war powers to take on the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), though he's faced concerns from liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans about the reach of his authorization to include ground troops and how long the approval would extend.
Democrats, in particular, have called for limits on the authorization. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has introduced legislation that would limit the authorization to three years and would bar use of ground forces.
Hatch, in a speech Monday, offered a more hawkish view, urging his colleagues to support a broad authorization that would allow the defeat of ISIS.
Hatch said he agreed with the White House that the authority Obama is currently using an extension of war powers granted the president after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is "ample" for what the administration needs, but that Congress should still approve a new agreement.
"Not only [will that] to put to rest any legal questions about the president's power to use force, but also to demonstrate to the world America's resolve in this fight against terror," Hatch said. As the Senate president pro tempore and third in line in presidential succession, the Utah Republican receives more detailed reports on national-security threats than rank-and-file members of Congress.
Sen. Mike Lee's office said Tuesday the senator wants to wait and see what Obama asks for before signaling what Lee would support, given the president has more information right now about the threat. Lee, R-Utah, sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican and former U.S. Air Force pilot, said Tuesday he firmly believes Congress shouldn't be managing a war and supports a broad authorization for the president to take what action is necessary against ISIS.
"It has to be that way," Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview. "Imagine if in World War II, Congress said, 'You can go defeat Japan but you have to come back if you want to fight Germany.' ... If we believe that ISIS is a threat, and I do, I think you have to authorize the president to defeat that threat."
The Associated Press contributed to this report