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Will Congress declare war on ISIS?

U.S. Congress

WASHINGTON – It’s no longer just French President Francois Hollande calling for all-out war on ISIS.

It’s not just Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, or Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, calling for a congressional declaration of war on the Islamic State – an action not taken in this city since World War II.

Now the cries are bi-partisan, coming from some unlikely sources and even cheered on by the U.S. news media.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut is one who is now on board.

“Congress must declare war against ISIS,” he said. “Each one of us first ran for office on the promise that we wouldn’t shy away from tough debates, but rather, would rise to the challenge the times demand. Now is the time to prove we meant it.”

In a letter to senators Friday, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism called for a vote before the end-of-the-year recess in December.

“We’ve taken dozens of votes to repeal Obamacare; we’ve held hours upon hours of hearings and multiple special investigations on Benghazi; we’ve devoted days of Senate floor time to blocking new administration rules on clean water and power,” he said. “That is the majority’s prerogative, but this Congress has so far failed to take a single vote on the war that is currently being fought against ISIS, or to truly debate how we confront this evil.”

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In a signed editorial in Florida Today, Stephen Long, a defense-industry executive and member of the paper’s editorial advisory board, had this to say: “With incredible sadness but firm resolve, I call on the United States Congress to formally declare war on ISIS and all similar groups espousing hatred against the world and our Western way of life.”

“Nothing less than full consideration of a formal declaration of war will be sufficient to the task at hand,” he added. “If after prayerful and difficult deliberations, the Congress chooses not to declare war on behalf of the people it is sworn to serve – so be it. We as a people will have spoken and we as a people will have to thereafter accept the consequences. If we fail to stand up to the ISIS threat then we should all be prepared to fall prostrate before those willing to force us to their evil will.”

He added: “If we declare War, then we must act like we are at war – we are and will be in a battle for the survival of freedom and liberty. American citizens have been killed by cowardly acts of indiscriminate terror. We cannot wish this evil away. Such evil can only be kept at bay by hard steel and a firm resolve to win. A formal declaration of war will and must have consequences for all Americans – not just those that serve in our armed forces. As a people, we must be willing to pay the price, no matter how high.”

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Seemingly arguing against simply a reauthorization of military force by Congress, many, like Long, are making it clear they are calling for a constitutional declaration of war – an action not invoked by Congress for 75 years.

“A formal declaration of war will give unequivocal direction to our elected government – to tell them we must stand and fight, to not cower,” Long wrote. “War is horrible. Appeasement, surrender and moral cowardice are acts worse than war. We must stand together and steel ourselves for what lies ahead.”

Others in Congress are talking tough on ISIS, but falling short of calling for a formal declaration of war.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, says he is on introducing a new authorization for the use of military force in December.

President Obama is currently carrying out military actions claiming he doesn’t need such a authorization. He has been asserting authority given by Congress to his predecessor for fighting the more obtuse “war on terror” in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Many, in and out of Congress, now agree that the hostilities by ISIS, which didn’t even exist in 2001, require a more specific action under the Constitution.

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An open debate on all the actions the long war would entail — from drone strikes to electronic eavesdropping — would clarify the extraordinary powers Congress expects the president to use in order to keep the country safe.

“This is a muddled, sub-constitutional netherworld,” wrote Eli Lake, a national security columnist for Bloomberg View, in a New York Post editorial. “Is the U.S. at war? It looks like war. And if Congress hasn’t voted to declare war or certify some military operation, then is this risk to the U.S. really as great as many suggest? Though Congress hasn’t voted to ‘declare war’ since 1942, it has elected to do so on five occasions since the beginning of the republic.”

Nick Gillespie, writing for Reason, a staunchly non-interventionist, libertarian magazine, wrote a piece praising Lake under the headline: “Why We Need a New Declaration of War Regarding ISIS.”

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is on record as favoring a formal declaration of war, too.

“We should declare war, and harness all of the power that the United States can bring to bear, both diplomatic and military, of course, to be able to take out ISIS,” the former governor of Florida said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” charging the Obama administration viewed the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as a “law enforcement exercise.”

Another Republican vying for the party’s nomination for president, Sen. Marco Rubio, said: “We are most definitely at war with ISIS and I’d be supportive of declaring that, whether it’s formally through Congress or rhetorically.”

Yet, there’s far from a consensus for the action.

Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says she would not support a declaration of war on ISIS.

“If you have a declaration of war, you’d better have a budget that backs it up,” she said while campaigning in New Hampshire. “I do think we have to do a better job of understanding the threat that is posed by radical Islamic jihadist groups.”