A Possible Answer to Jack's AUMF Question

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, February 12, 2015, 7:53 AM

Jack ends his excellent and comprehensive post this morning, a post which I will not try to summarize, with the following statement:

I just don’t get the calculation.  It seems that the President could have attracted much broader support in Congress, and avoided a lot of political and legacy headaches, while at the same time maintaining all extant authorities, with the two simple changes noted above.  At a minimum this approach would have made a rejection of the President’s proposal more palatable to his legacy.  I cannot fathom why he and his Team did not go this route.

Here's a possible reason: the administration may be anticipating amendment and staking out a hard line fully expecting Congress to walk the draft back.

To be clear, I have had no discussions---and I mean zero---with the administration on its strategy vis a vis this draft, so this is rank speculation. But the administration has a deep distrust of Congress, in general, and particularly so on national security matters. It is well justified in that suspicion.

The White House does not believe Congress will simply give it what it seeks. It knows that whatever draft it sends up will attract bipartisan criticism. Democrats will want more restrictions. Republicans will want the draft somehow to show greater resolve and commitment to the fight. So the goal here may be to send up a draft that can bear a bit of amendment---that nods to Democratic concerns but doesn't address them, except optically. If Democrats and libertarians then insist on addressing them meaningfully and can muster the votes to do so, fine. And if Republicans manage to strip the limiting language and pass something, that's also fine. By contrast, if the administration sends up a draft with meaningful limitations in it already, the debate might then shift to what more limitations Congress should add. And that might not be fine.

The underlying psychology here is a deep belief that Congress will never simply get behind the President and pass what he asks for.