Fact Check: Hillary Clinton On Using Force Against ISIS In Saturday's Democratic debate, Clinton said the U.S. has the authority to fight ISIS. But not everyone agrees on that.

Fact Check: Hillary Clinton On Using Force Against ISIS

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We want to take some time now to zero in on one of the policy discussions at last night's Democratic presidential debate. NPR's politics team has been fact-checking what the candidates are saying this campaign season. It's a feature we call Break It Down.


RONALD REAGAN: For our friends in the press who place a high premium on accuracy, let me say - there you go again - go again. I can't help it. There you go again.

MARTIN: National security topped the agenda last night in the wake of the attacks in Paris. Former Secretary of State Clinton gave this response when asked by moderator John Dickerson on CBS News if we should declare war on ISIS.


HILLARY CLINTON: We have an authorization to use military force against terrorists. We passed it after 9/11.

JOHN DICKERSON: And you think that covers all of this?

CLINTON: It certainly does cover it. I would like to see it updated.

MARTIN: The debate over the authorization for the use of military force, also known as the AUMF, has been roiling for a long time in Congress. It's legislation that grants the president congressional authority to wage war short of actually declaring war. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben has been looking into all of this, and she's with us now. Hi, Danielle.


MARTIN: So we just heard Secretary Clinton reference this authorization for military action against al-Qaida that Congress passed after 9/11. What does it actually say?

KURTZLEBEN: This resolution - it's a controversial one - but it says that the president is authorized to use, quote, "all necessary and appropriate force" against the groups or the people that the president determines, quote, "planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks on September 11."

MARTIN: So why does Secretary Clinton say it also allows the U.S. to act against ISIS?

KURTZLEBEN: She seems to be making essentially the same argument that the Obama administration is making. ISIS used to be al-Qaida in Iraq, and therefore has sort of grown out of al-Qaida in Iraq. The phrase that they use is associated force, even though the two groups have at this point formally separated from each other.

MARTIN: I do think it's important to point out that, as we've said earlier, this authorization is actually very controversial. What are the different points of view about it, and do they track along political lines or not?

KURTZLEBEN: There are different points of view, and they don't necessarily track along political lines. One of the biggest fears about this authorization is that it could be used to justify the use of force in situations that are not really that linked to September 11 attacks, which is the thing that, of course, sparked this authorization.

MARTIN: And finally, Danielle, Secretary Clinton, as we heard earlier, said she would like to see this authorization updated. Is she saying she wants what President Obama has been asking for, which is a new authorization for the use of military force? But if they say that the existing language already covers them to go after ISIS, why do they want something new?

KURTZLEBEN: President Obama went to Congress earlier this year asking for a new authorization to fight ISIS. And that authorization would have been in addition to this 2001 one. It wouldn't have replaced it exactly. It would have supplemented it, and it would have put a few limits on it. For example, a time limit on how long the fight could go. Now, as for why they want something new, there are a couple of arguments. One is the argument that you want Congress and the president to both be behind the use of force. The other - I spoke to Benjamin Wittes. He's from the Brookings Institution today. And not everyone would agree with him on this, of course, but what he says is that yes, the administration does have a plausible legal basis for fighting ISIS under this AUMF from 2001. However, he said it's not the cleanest legal argument. It's reasonable to see why they would want something a bit more explicit.

MARTIN: That NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben of our politics team, breaking down some of what we heard in last night's Democratic presidential debate. Thank you, Danielle.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.

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