JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, President Obama today asked Congress for a war powers resolution, a measure to generally approve the use military force against the Islamic State group.
Here's Jeffrey Brown.
JEFFREY BROWN: The question now, how will Congress respond to the proposal, the first such war powers request from this president?
We are joined by two senators, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, who's pushed for a resolution granting war powers to go before Congress, and Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer, who's just returned from a briefing and discussion on this issue for Senate Republicans.
And, Senator Fischer, let me start with you. What are you hearing from your colleagues? Some have already said they think this is too narrowly drawn, not giving this president and the next one enough flexibility. What do you think?
SEN. DEB FISCHER, (R) Nebraska: What I'm looking forward to is a discussion by Congress on the resolution.
We're going to have committee hearings. We're going to be calling witnesses, really get some facts from the administration. What I would like to say is, we're going to do our jobs, and it's going to be open, it's going to be transparent, so that the public understands what the president is asking for, how Congress is responding to his request, and have that open process.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Senator Kaine, we heard you earlier in the program saying that the resolution leaves perhaps too much room for the president. Explain the concerns you have.
SEN. TIM KAINE, (D) Virginia: Well, first, I'm very glad that the president sent this to Congress, because we shouldn't be at war without a congressional debate and vote.
And there's much in the authorization that I like. We passed one in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, and it's similar in many instances.
The provision about ground troops makes me nervous, because it's kind of vague and broad. It basically says ground troops can't be used, except — can't be used for enduring offensive combat operations, but it doesn't describe what that means.
And one lesson I think we should have learned from the authorizations that were passed in 2001 and 2002 is, vague, undefined language can lead you into circumstances that you didn't contemplate. So, as Deb mentioned, we're going to be having hearings. And those hearings will be to pepper witnesses with questions and put some shape and definition to the authorization based on how the hearings go.
JEFFREY BROWN: Deb Fischer, what do you think about that language, specifically about ground troops?
SEN. DEB FISCHER: Well, you know, I'm looking forward to having the administration explain what they mean by that.
I kind of disagree with my colleague here. I believe the commander in chief needs to have flexibility. I think a commander in chief should be able to listen to his advisers, to the generals, to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are going to provide him with facts, with information on what's happening on the ground.
And then he needs to have that flexibility in order to make a wise decision on how best our country is going to be served. To put a lot of limits on a commander in chief, to put those into an AUMF, I don't know if that's the wise course that we should take.
I think we're going to learn more as we go through the committee process. There will be a number of committees that are going to be involved in that process. And I'm hopeful that the administration will put forth a strategy, an endgame that we haven't seen so far.
JEFFREY BROWN: You know, Tim Kaine, another key issue here and contentious, the president proposes replacing the 2002 authorization that was for use of force in Iraq, but not the 2001 authorization after 9/11.
SEN. TIM KAINE: Right.
JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think he should have gone further and dropped the 2001 authorization?
SEN. TIM KAINE: Jeffrey, I do think that we need to revise the 2001 authorization, absolutely.
I don't think we necessarily have to do it within the framework of this ISIL authorization, because I think you can take them up separately, but we should be urgent about it.
I'll tell you, one issue in the hearings that I'm going to be really focused on is the extent of our coalition partners. The U.S. can't police a region that won't police itself. And that's one of the reasons I'm worried about the ground troop provision. If it has to rely on U.S. ground troops, it almost certainly means that the region isn't stepping up to fight its own homegrown terrorist threat.
And they need to do that. And if they do, we can vigorously assist them. But unless they're showing the willingness to battle the threat that is its own region's terrorist threat, it's going to be very difficult for us to accomplish the mission, at least inside of those countries.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, Senator Fischer, you said several times you're eager for these hearings, you're eager to learn more. What is your biggest concern at point as you look at the specific language? What worries you the most?
SEN. DEB FISCHER: Well, as I said earlier, what I'm looking for is an end state. What's the strategy here?
We haven't really seen what the goals are. We hear about degrading and defeating ISIS. Are we at the point right now where we're just looking at degrading them? We have to look at three things, I think. What's going to happen with Syria? How are we going to address Assad? How are we going to then look at Iraq? What are we looking for in Iraq?
It's a very destabilized country there. Is the goal a unified Iraq? And of course we have to confront Iran and their ambitions in that region. I haven't heard anything from the president or the administration on where we are with regards to an overall view of what happens in that region of the world.
JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think, Senator Fischer, about the language of a specific time period, three years?
SEN. DEB FISCHER: I think it limits the next president of the United States. I don't believe we have seen that in AUMFs before. To put that three-year time period on is a limitation that doesn't give the president, either this president or the next president, the flexibility that they need.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Senator Kaine, what do you think about that time period?
SEN. TIM KAINE: I think we need a sunset, because what we learned in the aftermath of the very brief authorizations that were passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002 is, if you impose no limitation in time, no limitation in geography, and if you put in vague and undefined terms, then you lead to a situation where Pentagon officials today say that they think we will be in the war declared in '01 AUMF for another 25 or 30 years.
That's not what Congress intended when they passed the law. And a sunset doesn't mean operations finish. It just means that a president has to come back to Congress and says, here's the status; now we need to move to a next chapter.
That kind of review is helpful.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so I know it's just day one here, and there's a lot to go, but very briefly, where we stand now, Senator Kaine, will it pass? Will you vote for it?
SEN. TIM KAINE: Something is going to pass because there's an overwhelming bipartisan consensus that we need to be in this military action against ISIL. There are a lot of questions to ask and there will probably be some amendments. But I think we will get there.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Senator Fischer, what do you think?
SEN. DEB FISCHER: I want to go through the process. I want to have a full understanding. And I want that open and transparent process for the American people. This is a serious issue when we send our young people to war.
JEFFREY BROWN: Senator Deb Fischer, Senator Tim Kaine, thank you very both much.
SEN. TIM KAINE: Thanks so much.
SEN. DEB FISCHER: Thank you.