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Sen. Kaine Pushes For Vote On Military Strikes Against ISIS

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The U.S. military has been waging war against ISIS militants in the Middle East for nearly six months, and yet only now, just this morning in fact, President Obama has sent Congress his draft for war authorization. This comes after some strong prodding from Capitol Hill, including from members of the president's own party, like Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. He spoke with us early this morning.

Good morning.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And, Senator, hundreds of airstrikes have already been carried out against ISIS positions. We have American military on the ground in the form of advisers. Why congressional approval now?

KAINE: Well, Renee, when I heard the president was going to send this up, my reaction was, finally, thank goodness. This should have been done in August or September and - because Congress constitutionally is the party that's supposed to declare war, and it's the most solemn responsibility we have. And the reason that it's only happening now is kind of mystifying to me, as to why both the administration and Congress wanted to wait. But regardless, that's in the rearview mirror now.

MONTAGNE: Although I would say the president has said all along that he's using the authorization for use of military force, known as AUMF, from the earlier Iraq war to fight, at that time, against al-Qaida. Pretty broad parameters for that war. Is there partisan disagreements over what should actually be authorized in this new agreement?

KAINE: Absolutely, and there's high skepticism on Capitol Hill that the earlier authorizations cover this action, and that's why so many of us have been pushing the administration, but they will send an authorization draft proposal today. I haven't seen the final language yet, but I understand some of the concepts, and some of what I understand, I like.

I introduced an authorization in Congress in September, a version of it was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, and it had concepts like a sunset provision; instead of an open-ended war that could go on for 13 or 14 years, require the president to come back to Congress in three years to justify if this mission should continue or it should be changed. That's important.

There's some limitations, for example, the Iraq AUMF from 2002 will be repealed. That's good. It's not good to have these previous war authorizations kind of floating out in the atmosphere that can be grabbed onto and used a decade later. So that is important to repeal it. But the area where you'll probably see the most controversy, Renee, is the president's request that we authorize ground troops with a prohibition on ground troops, except for no ground troops for enduring offensive combat missions. The president, in the State of the Union and in his speech to the nation in September, said sort of no ground troops, no boots on the ground. And this is a different formulation whether it's a difference that is meaningful or not, that's something that we're going to be getting into in the hearings.

MONTAGNE: Really, just briefly, would you like to see ground troops barred - combat forces?

KAINE: I would like to see significantly - some clear restrictions. So the authorization that I introduced and that was passed, a version of it in Senate Foreign Relations, basically said no ground troops except the following exceptions - and we listed things like search and rescue missions, forward deployed individuals to help guide air campaigns. I think an exception for special forces make sense.

But as I understand, the White House is going to submit a proposal with a phrase that I think is vague, that is not defined. I would like to see it have some more specificity. That's what the committee process and the debates here in Congress will be about.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

KAINE: OK. Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.