Just two months before a crucial midterm election, President Barack Obama is taking friendly fire from within his own party as embattled Democratic senators publicly criticize his handling of the extremist group responsible for the recent slayings of two American journalists.
The latest salvo came from North Carolina Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who’s locked in a tight race with Republican businessman Thom Tillis. In a Wednesday night debate, Hagan advocated for military strikes against the group in Syria and blamed the growth of the Islamic State squarely on the White House’s failure to engage earlier in the region.
“One of the issues is the president should have weaponized the moderate Syrian rebels earlier,” Hagan said. “Without doing that, that has allowed ISIS to grow.”
The ding from the Democratic incumbent came the day after ISIS militants released a videotape of the beheading of Steven Sotloff, an American freelance journalist captured in Syria in 2013 and the second American killed by the group in a month. The continued aggression by the violent jihadist group – and particularly its expansion in Syria – has prompted criticism from both parties of the Obama administration’s perceived lack of a comprehensive strategy to curb its growth.
On Tuesday night, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken grabbed headlines with a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, writing that he is “troubled” that the president has not yet developed an overarching strategy to deal with the militant movement. Franken, who barely won his Senate seat six years ago after an election so close that it prompted a protracted legal battle, faces re-election in November.
Virginia Democrat Mark Warner said in a statement that the White House must put forward “clear strategy and political and military options for eliminating” the threat posed by ISIS. And New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whose race against former Republican Sen. Scott Brown has tightened in recent weeks, also added her voice to the chorus Wednesday on social media, tweeting “Do not believe ISIL is "manageable," agree these terrorists must be chased to the "gates of hell."
That comment contrasted one of the president’s previous statements on the issue (urging coalition forces to shrink ISIS to a “manageable problem”) with those of yet another Democrat whose rhetoric on the conflict have been hotter than the Obama’s: Vice President Joe Biden.
“[W]hen people harm Americans, we don’t retreat. We don’t forget,” Biden told a New Hampshire audience Wednesday. “We take care of those who are grieving, and when that’s finished, they should know, we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.”
The administration has ratcheted up his rhetoric against ISIS in past days. On Wednesday morning, Obama vowed to “degrade and destroy” the militant organization, wording echoed by his Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel.