U.S. lawmakers set last-ditch push for Islamic State war authorization

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (R) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) welcome Jordan's King Abdullah (C) on Capitol Hill in Washington December 3, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made a last-ditch push on Thursday to vote on an authorization for the use of military force against Islamic State before they hand full control of Congress over to Republicans next month. As debate intensified in the House of Representatives and Senate over the campaign against the militant Islamist group in Iraq and Syria, Democrats launched a plan to attach a formal authorization for the use of military force as an amendment to a water bill the panel considered - and passed - on Thursday. Republicans vehemently objected, accusing Democrats of forcing a politically motivated vote in order to get on the record as objecting to sending any U.S. troops - "boots on the ground" - to battle Islamic State. During two hours of heated discussion, the committee's Democratic chairman, Senator Robert Menendez, said members had reached an agreement to hold hearings with an eye toward voting on an authorization next week. He said Secretary of State John Kerry - or another top official from President Barack Obama's administration - would testify at a hearing on the issue on Monday. Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, said he was not fully comfortable with what he termed a "halfway" process. Corker suggested that the committee consider voting on only a 90-day authorization for the campaign of air strikes against Islamic State fighters, which began in August. The Tennessee senator is due to take over as Foreign Relations chairman in January, when Congress returns from its year-end holiday recess. Many lawmakers, including Republicans and Obama's fellow Democrats, want to vote on guidelines for the fight against the Islamic State fighters, who have killed thousands of people while seizing swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Republicans have made clear they do not want a vote before the new Congress is seated, although they want the White House to submit a "robust" plan. House Speaker John Boehner said Obama should submit an authorization in the new Congress. "I've got grave concerns that ... the plan he's put in place is not going to accomplish the goal of defeating and destroying ISIL," he told a news conference on Thursday, using another acronym for the group. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler)