IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

McCain on ISIS Fight: We Should Not Restrain the President

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Chuck Todd that Congress shouldn't restrain the president's options to deal with the Islamist terror group.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday that Congress should not restrict the president’s broad authority in authorizing the use of military force against the terrorist group known as ISIS.

“If we don't like what the commander-in-chief is doing, we can cut off his funds for doing so. But to restrain him in our authorization of him taking military action, I think frankly, is unconstitutional,” McCain said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He added that restraining the president’s authority to take military action “eventually leads to 535 commanders-in-chief,” referring to the total number of members of Congress.

McCain’s comments came after the president sent a draft of a new authorization of military force — or AUMF — to take action against ISIS. The draft stipulates a three-year authorization with no geographic limits and limited use of ground troops. The authorization would repeal the 2002 AUMF, which former Pres. George W. Bush used for the war in Iraq.

McCain, making his first appearance on “Meet the Press” since September 2013, said the president probably did not need the authority, but Congress should debate the issue.

“It's been since 2002, as I recall, that we've had a resolution that was aimed particularly at al-Qaeda and those responsible for the attacks on the United States,” he said. “So, I think it's probably appropriate, and it's probably appropriate to have the debate.”

Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, called the proposed three-year time limit “not appropriate.”

“We don't want to send a signal to the world that we're there for just so many years,” Reed told Chuck Todd in an interview following McCain’s comments. “Unfortunately, this battle is going to take a long time.”

McCain also criticized the president for not developing a strategy towards U.S. success, specifically citing the omission of Syria's president in the draft authorization.

“In his proposal, he left out Bashar Assad, which is really amazing in that we are training young Syrians to go in and fight against Bashar Assad,” McCain said. “Does that mean we aren't going to protect them against the barrel bombing of Bashar Assad, (which has) already killed well over 200,000 Syrians? It's really kind of convoluted.”

When asked why he continues to push for more military presence in places around the world, McCain said the president should have left a residual force behind in many instances.

“You have to have a stabilizing force. You're going to also have to have American boots on the ground,” he said. “That does not mean massive numbers, as the president sets up that straw man all the time. But it does mean forward air controllers, special forces, and many others.”

Reed, the senior senator from Rhode Island, said the conflicts in the Middle East “became our fight” in the early 2000s “when we decided to preemptively take out the Iraqi government.” He said the consequences of that decision are destabilized countries in that region of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

“Ultimately, it's about protecting ourselves. We don't want radicalized, well-trained individuals coming back from Iraq or Syria and attacking the United States,” Reed said. “We don't want other countries that are our allies being subjected to this pressure. But the fight ultimately has to be theirs.”

— Daniel Cooney