WASHINGTON — A top liberal in the House expects lawmakers will largely relent on the issue of congressional authorization following President Obama’s decision Thursday to send military advisers to Iraq and begin laying the groundwork for possible airstrikes.
In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s announcement there were signs in the Senate that Democrats were going to let the president ramp up U.S. involvement in Iraq without a formal sign-off from Congress.
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said he expects most of the rest of Congress to follow suit, despite bipartisan outcry before Friday from lawmakers demanding a say in future military involvement in Iraq.
Now that the broad outlines of the president’s plan — no ground combat, no commitment to air strikes, reserving the right to launch limited attacks on ISIS — have been sketched out, Grijalva said most members of Congress will be happier not having to go on the record about the military involvement in Iraq one way or the other.
“Because, I believe, public opinion is not for an escalated re-engagement in Iraq by our military, [lawmakers] would rather have the president take whatever heat is coming from this, and there is heat, and take the political hit than have to deal with it [themselves] while we’re in the throngs of a midterm election,” Grijalva said. “And that goes for both sides.”
Grijalva opposes Obama’s moves in Iraq, calling the sending of advisers and the gearing up for airstrikes “a slippery slope.” When it comes to congressional approval, he said demanding it is a “consistent” stance for members like him who complained George W. Bush acted unilaterally in Iraq in violation of the War Powers Act.
Progressives in Congress do have the outlines of a strategy to make their voice heard, but Grijalva Thursday afternoon it was still coming together in the wake of Obama’s announcement. Early plans are to rally votes for a House amendment sponsored by California Democrat Barbara Lee banning “boots on the ground” in Iraq, though there was some disagreement over whether or not the 300 military advisers Obama is planning to send count or not. Grijalva said they did to him but said they didn’t to Lee; Lee’s office was slow to respond to questions about the amendment. The rest of the early plan centers around banging the drum about the War Powers Act and trying to force Obama to bring his plans to Congress for approval.
Some progressive groups have already begun laying the groundwork for organized opposition to Obama’s moves in Iraq. In the hours after Obama’s announcement Thursday, a couple of liberal groups put out statements condemning the president’s plan while other groups said they were taking time to consider Obama’s plan before putting out their own statements.
Both inside Congress and without, Grijalva says he doesn’t expect the level of complaints to reach anywhere near what it was in the early 2000s.
“There are going to be the predictable voices,” he said. “But the fact that [members] aren’t saying anything about it should be an indication that they are worried a little bit about what their own constituencies are thinking in their individual districts. I don’t think there will be the human cry. It’s a very limited engagement. But like I said, it’s a slippery slope…and if it escalates, then I think the volume of the opposition is going to increase.”
Progressive stalwarts in the House were already expressing fretting that the president may soon find himself in another war — whether he wants one or not.
“The President does not want to get into another endless war. When you start increasing the advisors there, things happen, you get sucked deeper and deeper and deeper,” said Rep. Jm McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “I have no doubt the president doesn’t want to get into another pro-longed war but I worry that we may be positioning ourselves where we may get sucked into one. I hope I’m wrong but thats where my anxiety is.”
Kate Nocera contributed to this report.