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Congress Returns to Major Foreign Policy Challenges

FILE - U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.
FILE - U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.

Congress is back in session Monday after more than a month away from Washington. The House and Senate must pass a spending bill by the end of September to keep the U.S. government funded. Lawmakers hope to act quickly so they can head home to campaign ahead of November, when the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are up for election. However, major international developments may command lawmakers' attention.

The second beheading last week of an American journalist, Steven Sotloff, elicited an emotional response from many members of Congress across the country.

Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said the Islamic State militant group poses a singular threat.

"What is unique about ISIS's strategy is the release of this information, the way in which it boasts of its capacity to kill and terrorize," Royce said.

Royce and others say the U.S. must lead an international coalition to go after Islamic State targets with drones and airstrikes. President Barack Obama said he will meet with congressional leaders on Tuesday to discuss his strategy for going after the Islamic State and will address the nation on Wednesday. The House will hold five hearings this week focusing on terrorism.

Some lawmakers say Obama should seek congressional authorization for a broader military campaign in Iraq, and possibly even in Syria.

"I think they probably will pass something related to ISIS," said Steve Billet, a professor at George Washington University. "What form that actually takes in the end is another issue. Will we move beyond using drones for airstrikes? Will we put more people on the ground? Will we actually put people on the ground that will engage in military exercises? That’s a bigger issue."

Other members of Congress have criticized the president for not reacting strongly enough to the executions and say it is past time that he lay out a strategy for defeating the Islamic State.

Another unresolved issue is immigration reform and the influx of Central American children at the U.S. southern border. The president said Saturday he will postpone any executive action on immigration reform until after the midterm elections. Immigrants' rights groups and pro-immigration lawmakers say they are disappointed and have accused the president of playing politics with immigrants' lives, as more undocumented people are deported daily. Several Republicans also said the president's decision can be attributed to "raw politics."

For months, the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House have been unable to agree on legislation on a number of pressing issues such as immigration reform, and many lawmakers would like to avoid votes on controversial issues just weeks before the mid-term elections.