WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that Islamic State militants pose a serious threat that must be dealt with in Iraq, Syria or wherever they exist as he pressed President Barack Obama to spell out the U.S. strategy to destroy the militants.
"I think we need to be going after the terrorist threat wherever it is and anyone who thinks this is just an Iraq-Syria issue is not paying much attention to what's happening around the world," Boehner told reporters after a House Republican caucus meeting with former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The speaker said no decision would be made on whether Congress votes until Obama lays out his plan. The president was scheduled to meet with House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders on Tuesday afternoon and deliver an address on the issue Wednesday. Separately, administration officials planned a series of closed-door briefings for lawmakers.
There is no consensus in Congress on whether Obama needs new authorization to attack the militants. Some lawmakers say the president has the authority under the Constitution and no new vote is necessary. Others are reluctant to vote weeks before midterm elections.
Despite the disagreements, Republicans have seized on Obama's concession last month that the administration had no strategy, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell using that statement in a campaign ad.
In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell set the parameters for Obama, saying the president needs to identify military objectives and explain how they will be accomplished.
"He needs to present this plan to the Congress and the American people, and where the president believes he lacks authority to execute such a strategy, he needs to explain to the Congress how additional authority for the use of force will protect America," McConnell said. "The threat from ISIL is real and it's growing. It's time for President Obama to exercise some leadership in launching a response." ISIL is an alternative name for the militants.
In the House GOP meeting, Cheney stressed the importance of American leadership in the world to a Republican caucus that's split between hawks and tea partiers.
"His message primarily was that he sees the pattern of this president leading to a less safe world and a much more problematic relationship with our historic allies, whether they're in the Middle East or Europe," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said the former vice president wasn't advocating any specific course of action. "But doing nothing and pulling out, he stressed several times, wasn't a good national strategic policy," he said.
Terry said he wanted Obama to seek a vote from Congress. However, he said he had no sense yet what House Republicans as a whole might demand and whether most of his colleagues agree with him or not.
Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, a Boehner ally, was vague. "It would be good for the American people to be solid behind this," he said.
And Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said he saw no legal need for Obama to seek congressional approval for military action at all.
"He already has the authorization," he told reporters. "But I think if he chooses to come to Congress, I think it will pass overwhelmingly and it may be to his benefit."
Kinzinger said Obama had options, from seeking lawmakers' blessing for a specific use of force, amending his current authorization or simply asking for money to be appropriated for an ongoing battle.
"The big thing is to make sure that he follows up those words with action," Kinzinger said. "That's been an area that's been lacking lately."
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, another member close to the GOP House leadership, said Congress could refrain from taking any action if it finds Obama's strategy insufficient.
"If the president does not clearly lay out a policy that members of Congress, the American people, our military and our enemies understand, then I don't think there will be any action taken," he said.
"What would we do? If there is no plan, what would the president be asking us to do?"