Mitch McConnell: Senate to okay military action on ISIS in early 2015

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Senate will send President Barack Obama legislation authorizing the use of military force against ISIS shortly after the GOP takes majority control in January, presumed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday.

In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, the Kentucky Republican said he’d like to see Obama ask Congress for such a measure — but that one is coming anyway.

“It would be even better if the President asked us for what he wants, but we’re not going to wait forever,” McConnell said.

“We’re certainly going to need to use force, there’s no question about it. They’re beheading Americans and posting it on the Internet. They’re a serious threat to our national security. And we’re going to have to act,” he said.

He signaled that crafting legislation green-lighting military action, which is already underway against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, could be an item on which Republicans could work with Obama.

“I think the President is moving in that direction himself,” McConnell said. “He’d be in a much stronger position with an authorization of the use of military force. We’ve been sort of expecting him to ask for it, but if he doesn’t, I think he will get one sometime soon after the first of the year.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will start its debate on authorizing the use of military force against ISIS this week. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to appear before the panel Tuesday. Meanwhile, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, are pushing for a vote on a bill that would approve U.S. action.

That measure, though, wouldn’t advance in time for a vote before senators are expected to wrap up their post-election “lame duck” session and leave Washington.

McConnell said he doesn’t want a vote in December, but that with the new Republican majority in place in January, “We’ll address it at the beginning of next year.”

In the interview, McConnell previewed his plans for the final two years of Obama’s tenure — saying he expects the Senate to pass legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline, forcing the President into a tough veto decision, and to “push back against this overactive bureaucracy” on environmental regulations.

He also said he expects votes to repeal Obama’s signature health care law, as well as some of its key components, including the individual mandate that all Americans have health insurance and its tax on medical device-makers.

But McConnell, pointing to a meeting with Obama last week, said Republicans might be able to agree with the President on a few issues.

“It would be better, obviously, if we can get some results. And he and I had an opportunity to talk last week. And we agreed to talk about the things that we might agree on,” McConnell said.

“And there are some,” he said. “Trade agreements. There may be a path forward on comprehensive tax reform. We have certainly a lot of bipartisan interest in the crumbling infrastructure in the country and what to do about it. My first choice is to make progress for the country.”

McConnell said his meeting with Obama was “unusual — we’ve not had a chance to talk very much.”

But he said that’s no surprise, since the President took office with hefty Democratic majorities and the party kept control of the Senate until November. McConnell said he’s “not opposed to negotiating with the administration.”

“Now he needs to talk to us and that’s good, because when the American people elect divided government, they’re not saying they don’t want anything done,” McConnell said. “What they are saying is they want things done in the political center, things that both sides can agree on. And in the conversation last week, we talked about the things where there may be some agreement.”

McConnell left the door open to congressional action on immigration — which both McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had said would be made much more difficult by Obama’s executive action halting deportations for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens.

“What we’re going to do is try to figure out the best way to respond to what the President has done. We know we have a broken immigration system. We know the border is not secure. We know that we need an expansion in H1-B visas. We need an improvement in the agricultural guest worker program,” McConnell said. “There are a whole lot of things that need to be done to improve our immigration system. And I hope the President had made it possible for us to — to deal with those issues.”