Obama administration sets briefings for Congress on Islamic State

by Reuters
Thursday, 4 September 2014 21:25 GMT

(Adds comment from U.S. House of Representatives majority leader)

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, Sept 4 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is dispatching senior intelligence officials and Secretary of State John Kerry to brief members of Congress and staff about the Islamic State militant group in the coming weeks, congressional aides said on Thursday.

Kerry will testify to members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee during the week of Sept. 15, an aide said.

And officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center will brief congressional staff on Friday, before Congress returns on Monday from its August recess.

Some lawmakers have contended that Obama should seek congressional authorization for airstrikes in Iraq against the Sunni militants. However, it is not clear whether such a vote would take place this month or whether he needs Congress to approve the limited actions already under way.

The rise of the Islamic State is expected to be an issue in campaigning for the Nov. 4 congressional elections.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a memo to fellow Republicans on Thursday that the Obama administration had been "too passive" in allowing militants to gain strength.

Signaling Republican intentions to use accusations of Democrats' mismanagement over Iraq and Syria as a campaign issue, he chided the administration over a U.S. Forest Service article on roasting marshmallows with healthier ingredients such as fruit instead of chocolate.

"For the things that government is supposed to do - like confront terrorist groups - we don't have a strategy, but for things Americans are supposed to be able to do for themselves - like figuring out the best ingredients for s'mores - government bureaucrats have that figured out," McCarthy said.

Lawmakers are due to leave Washington again late this month and will not return until mid-November.

Obama has formally informed Congress about air strikes and other military activity in Iraq to counter the threat from the Islamic State, as he is required to do under the War Powers Act.

However, the act gives presidents authority for only temporary military action, and Obama would have to seek Congress' approval for a campaign lasting more than 60 days.

Several lawmakers - both Republicans and Obama's fellow Democrats - have complained that the administration has failed to consult them sufficiently or present a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State.

Participants in Friday's classified briefing will include staff from House leaders' offices and national security committees.

(Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Shumaker)

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