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Obama Says He Doesn't Need Permission To Strike ISIS — So Why Is He Asking?


This week, President Obama sent Congress a formal request to authorize military action against the so-called Islamic State. But you might have heard President Obama has already ordered thousands of airstrikes in the fight against ISIS. So we're turning to NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, to ask, why now? So Mara, why now?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, the president said he doesn't need permission from Congress, that he has enough authorities in his power as commander-in-chief and because of a 2002 authorization to use military force - AUMF. But he says the U.S. is always stronger when it acts militarily if it has buy-in from Congress. And, of course, Congress has been asking the president to send them an authorization.

RATH: So Congress wanted the president to ask for this authorization. Now that they have his request, are they happy?

LIASSON: Well, they're having a debate. The president says he's struck a balance - authority to go after ISIS, but not permission for a, quote, "enduring, offensive ground operation," unquote. And exactly what that means is in the eye of the beholder. But as you would expect, Democrats say the proposed AUMF is too expansive, not enough protections against an open-ended conflict. And Republicans say it doesn't go far enough. Now, the other thing to remember is it extends for three years, so it is going to affect the next president, whoever that may be.

RATH: Aren't the same people who accused the president of acting like a king arguing that he should now have more authority?

LIASSON: They are arguing that the president, as commander-in-chief, should have more leeway to conduct a military operation against ISIS. But they also were saying that the president isn't an emperor and Congress should participate. Congress should debate this and vote.

RATH: And Mara, also, the clock is ticking at the Department of Homeland Security, which is just going to run out of money on February 27 unless the Senate manages to pass a funding bill. Why is the bill stuck?

LIASSON: The bill is stuck because conservatives insist on some way of overturning the president's executive orders on immigration. He granted deportation relief to up to 5 million people who are here illegally. But Democrats want a clean bill - a bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security with no strings attached. They've been filibustering. The Republicans can't break the filibuster. And now, Mitch McConnell, who had promised no government shutdowns - he's the Republican majority leader in the Senate - now he's facing a mini shutdown because the Department of Homeland Security might shut down at the end of February if they can't pass this bill.

But the House won't budge. It says it passed its version. The Senate can't pass the bill because Democrats are filibustering. Mitch McConnell is usually very good at getting out of corners like this, but no one knows right now how he's going to do it.

RATH: Finally, Mara, let's take on one more issue that's in front of Congress right now. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to address a joint session of Congress next month about Iran's nuclear program. A lot of people are unhappy about that, including the president. What's going on?

LIASSON: That's right. Netanyahu is going to come and give a speech against the diplomatic measures that the president is taking. The big problem was that Republicans invited Netanyahu. They didn't tell the White House they'd done that, neither did Netanyahu. The White House says it won't see him while he's here because it's too close to the Israeli elections, and it would look like they were getting involved. There's been a backlash among Democrats who say that Netanyahu is politicizing the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, turning it into a partisan relationship between Netanyahu and Republicans. So a bunch of Democrats are going to boycott the speech. There were some suggestions that Netanyahu was considering moving the venue of the speech, but right now, he's still planning to come.

RATH: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.