The U.S. Congress is in recess this coming week, as President Barack Obama prepares to host a summit on confronting violent extremism in American neighborhoods. Attacks in Denmark once again underscore the need for vigilance, and could impact forthcoming congressional deliberations on President Obama’s request for authorization to battle Islamic State militants.
Attacks in Copenhagen targeting a Jewish synagogue and a free-speech event appear eerily reminiscent of last month’s deadly terrorist shootings in France. As violence flares anew in Europe, U.S. officials worry radicalized Muslims who joined Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria could slip back into the United States.
Keeping track of the flow of potential terrorists to and from the Middle East is proving a daunting challenge, according to FBI Assistant Deputy Director Michael Steinbach.
“I don’t know every person there (with the Islamic State). And I do not know everyone coming back," he said. "So it is not even close to being under control.”
It is in this atmosphere of uncertainty that President Obama asked Congress for formal but limited authorization to battle Islamic State.
“It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq," said Obama. "At the same time, this resolution strikes the necessary balance by giving us the flexibility we need for unforeseen circumstances. For example, if we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL leaders, and our partners did not have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order Special Forces to take action.”
Congress is united in wanting Islamic State defeated. But many Republicans think President Obama - and his successor - should have a freer hand in the fight. House Speaker John Boehner:
“There is a war underway and we are in the midst of it, but the president has tied his own hands and wants to tie his hands even further with the authorization he has sent up here,” said Boehner.
By contrast, the proposed authorization is too open-ended for some Democratic lawmakers, like Congressman Adam Schiff.
“I think it is very important we find a way to get to ‘yes’ on an authorization," said Schiff. "But I also think it is very important we not write another blank check. We did that 14 years ago with the 2001 authorization.”
Lawmakers will use this week to hear from constituents at home on a variety of topics, including the fight against Islamic State. Deliberations on protecting America will begin in earnest next week, when legislators will face a more immediate deadline: funding domestic security operations that expire at the end of the month.