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Why Congress Is Running Away From a Vote On ISIS

Has anyone seen Congress? It was just here a minute ago.

President Obama will give a speech on Wednesday to outline his  plans for dealing with ISIS, so 90% of Monday's daily briefing was devoted to the issue, and 90% of that 90% was devoted to trying to figure out what the president meant when he said he wants "buy-in" from Congress. In his interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, oft-cited at yesterday's briefing, the president said, “I’m confident that I have the authorization that I need to protect the American people, and I’m always going to do what’s necessary to protect the American people. But I do think it’s important for Congress to understand what the plan is, to have buy in, to debate it.”

One of the better attempts to uncover just what the president was talking about came from ABC News' Jon Karl, who asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest, essentially, what the ever-loving eff does "buy-in" mean? Earnest's response to Karl, however, was pretty similar to all the other stabs we took at that question yesterday:

"Well, again, if you want to get some insight into the president’s current thinking about this, then I would refer you to the answer that he gave to Chuck in the interview 48 hours ago. But the other thing that I would point out that’s also part of your question is if the president decides to expand the operation. And these are the kinds of questions that are best answered after the president has made some fundamental decisions about what he wants to do there -- that if there is an expansion in the operation that takes place, what consequences are there for a whole range of things: for our diplomatic relationships, what kind of assistance are we going to seek from our partners; what kind of assistance would we seek from regional governments in terms of the role that they could play here; and what role does Congress have."

The debate over striking ISIS in Syria has the surreal quality of President Tyrant Overreeachbama seeming to claim unilateral authority to strike ISIS in Syria, and Republicans seeming to be perfectly fine with that. These are the same Republicans who were (and are) ready to impeach over relatively minor rule changes. The White House isn't "stopping sort" of asking for a vote because they don't want a vote, they are stopping  short of asking for a vote because they, at this point, want Congress to be involved in any way they possibly can be dragged, kicking and screaming, into helping make a decision. At this point, Congress isn't even punting on strikes in Syria, it's ducking away from the snap.

Congress, especially Republicans in Congress, has responsibilities it doesn't want, especially when it comes to military action. The less they have to do with making actual decisions, the more they can play Goldilocks on Sunday shows and complain that the president's actions are too weak, or too strong, or too pitchy, dawg, or whatever. Why do you think it is that the first GOP pitch on this was to essentially give the president the power to strike anyone, anywhere, anytime? Is it because they love and trust Barack Obama so very much? No, it's because a broad authorization like that gives perfect cover to anyone who votes for it, as was demonstrated with the last Iraq War, when all the Democrats who voted for it could later say, "Well, I never imagined he'd use it that way!"

The president is asking for "buy-in" because asking for a vote, a specific authorization for exactly what it is he wants to do, is beyond everyone's wildest dreams at this point. You don't propose marriage when you haven't even been on a first date yet.

Of all the parallels (mostly misguided) being drawn between the Iraq war and the current situation, this is the most salient, in terms of lessons learned. Congress has a chance, now, to take back its responsibilities, to act as a partner (or even a check) on presidential war powers, but they'll have to give up their own political cover to do it. Don't hold your breath.