(CNSNews.com) - "We do have a war that was declared in 2001 against al Qaeda," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. And since there are still al-Qaeda elements in Yemen that threaten the United States, he said he has no problem with U.S. drone strikes there.
But Kaine expressed "grave concern" that U.S. "war against ISIL" was never authorized by Congress. "Today is the end of the ninth month of an undeclared, unauthorized war -- and I think Congress needs to take that up," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday.
Earlier, on CNN's morning news show, Kaine called Congress's failure to move on a war authorization a "scandal" that too many people are not talking about.
President Obama ordered the air strikes on Islamic State terrorists last August, but Congress refused to take up an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) before the midterm election in November.
Then in February, Obama asked Congress to pass an AUMF permitting him to wage war against the Islamic State and “associated persons or forces” as long as the war does not include “enduring offensive ground combat operations” and the authorization is limited to three years.
Obama said the draft AUMF he sent to Congress would give him the "flexibility" to conduct limited ground combat operations, such as rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership. It would also allow intelligence collecting and sharing and help in operational planning to partner forces.
But nine months into the U.S.-led air strikes on Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria, Congress still has not moved on the president's request or come up with its own resolution.
Kaine said he expects something to happen soon: "We are now going to turn our attention to the authorization for this nine-month war against ISIL. And if we can act in the Foreign Relations Committee in a bipartisan way on the Iranian nuclear negotiation, we can do it on this, and our troops deserve it.
"They have been fighting without any indication that Congress even cares about the war. We need to dig into this authorization. It's very complicated, but we can resolve differences and put our bipartisan support behind a mission that I think Americans see. ISIL is not shrinking. They're not going away. They're metastasizing and growing. The United States needs to take action, but Congress has to support it," Kaine said.
Kaine expects the Senate to act first in drafting legislation authorizing the war on ISIS/ISIL: "I don't think you will see the House do anything if we don't."
He noted that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (on which Kaine sits) voted on a resolution (introduced by Kaine) in December, but the authorization died without floor action when Congress adjourned. However, the committee's leaders have said they want to take it up again.
"Members of the committee are trading draft language on some of the challenging points," Kaine said. "With the American public strongly supporting military action against ISIL, with probably three-quarters of both houses of Congress, bipartisan, supporting action against ISIL to some degree, we ought to be able to bridge over some of the differences and some key points and provide that kind of bipartisan support that we need to show ISIL that we have resolve, but our allies and our troops also deserve to see that show of unity from Congress."
President Obama is currently acting under the 2001 AUMF, but Kaine said that permission slip is "about different circumstances targeting different groups in different countries."
He noted that the 2001 AUMF authorized the president to take military action against those who perpetrated the attacks of 9/11. "That's what it said. ISIL was not formed until 2003, two years after 9/11. ISIL is not an ally of al Qaeda. They're an enemy of al Qaeda. They're fighting against al Qaeda now," he noted.
"I think it is way too much of a stretch to take those authorizations and then say they apply here. And the members of Congress who were here then, who voted on them, say this never would have been within the contemplation of those authorizations."
Kaine said the draft AUMF sent to Congress by the White House "sort of made nobody happy."
"But they do have a working template of an authorization that we're working with. Many of the White House provisions, I think, will be acceptable. There are probably three issues between Democrats and Republicans where there are some differences and we're trying to hammer those out now."
Kaine said it's up to Congress to define the scope of the anti-ISIL mission, because the threat is only growing larger, as the Islamic State brings its terror to more places.
"We are not supposed to be at war, in a declared war, on the say-so of a president without a congressional vote," Kaine said earlier on CNN. "And this is a very dangerous thing. Very disrespectful of the troops we're asking to risk their lives that Congress won't even do the job to debate about whether the mission is worth it."