Republican congressional leaders are deflecting the tough questions about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria until they hear President Obama's plan for defeating the terrorist group.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was repeatedly pressed by reporters Tuesday about whether he believes U.S. ground troops are needed in the Middle East and whether Congress needed to authorize an expanded military campaign.
Not so fast, Boehner said.
"Until we have a strategy there's no reason to talk about any of the specifics," he told reporters at his first press conference since the House returned from its summer recess. "I'm looking for a strategy from the president that takes on this terrorist threat and defeats it."
The Speaker and the other top three congressional leaders will head to the White House later Tuesday to be briefed on Obama's plan, which the president will outline in a speech to the nation on Wednesday at 9 p.m.
In a separate statement Tuesday morning, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Obama needs to "present a strategy to Congress."
He needs to present this plan to the Congress and the American people, and where the President believes he lacks authority to execute such a strategy, he needs to explain to the Congress how additional authority for the use of force will protect America.
The threat from ISIL is real and it’s growing. It’s time for President Obama to exercise some leadership in launching a response. We know that the administration has authorized military actions to protect American lives. Now we need to hear what additional measures will be taken to defeat ISIL.”
A sizable number of lawmakers from both parties have called for a congressional vote on an authorization of force, based on the likelihood that Obama will order an expansion of the military effort beyond the limited airstrikes now targeting ISIS in Iraq.
But the party leadership is loathe to hold such an important vote in the brief congressional session this month before the November midterm elections. Aides told The Wire late last week that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's private message to colleagues was that no vote would be held unless Obama made an explicit request for one. The White House has given no indication that the president is gearing up to do that.
"Until the president outlines a strategy to deal with this serious threat," Boehner said when pressed, "I don’t know whats going to be involved."
GOP Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.) explained the political dynamic in Congress with unusual candor – for a congressman – in The New York Times on Tuesday morning:
A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later.'
It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”
House Republicans heard a talk from former Vice President Dick Cheney inside their meeting on Tuesday, so don't expect a dovish response to Obama's speech on Wednesday.