WASHINGTON (CNN) — A day before President Barack Obama lays out his strategy to counter the ISIS terror threat, House Republicans sought the counsel of Dick Cheney, a key architect of the Iraq War.
Cheney huddled with House Republicans, saying Obama wasn’t prepared for the terrorist threat posed by the group and urging the GOP to support a more muscular national defense, House GOP members told CNN.
The closed-door meeting at the Capitol Hill Club was billed as a pre-midterm election pep rally. Cheney was there to boost enthusiasm among rank-and-file members, but he also told House Republicans that the party needs to rebuild the military and focus its public message this fall on the importance of a strong national security policy.
Several Republicans who attended the meeting told CNN the former vice president didn’t weigh in on the issue of whether the President needs any approval from Congress to continue or expand military action against ISIS.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a former Iraq War veteran, acknowledged that his party was split on the issue but said it would be “ludicrous” for Congress not to hold some type of vote before the midterm elections.
He said he believes the President has the authority to conduct airstrikes against ISIS, but argued it was lawmakers’ responsibility to go on the record on the mission or the funding for a military operation.
Cheney, as he has done in recent public appearances, railed on Obama’s foreign policy and defended the Bush administration’s actions in Iraq. He said the Obama administration had failed to lock in a security agreement with the Iraqi government to keep some U.S. presence in the country to assist with the political transition, which Cheney asserted contributed to the instability there now.
“Doing nothing and pulling out — he stressed several times — was not a good national strategic policy,” Rep Lee Terry, R-Nebraska, said of Cheney’s remarks.
Defending his record, Obama has argued it wasn’t his decision to withdraw troops fully from Iraq; rather he said that the Iraqi people and its government didn’t want a U.S. presence there any longer.
“The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were — a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq,” Obama told reporters last month.
Some Republicans said Cheney warned that the military wasn’t ready to respond to threats posed by terrorist groups around the world because budgets have been slashed.
But Cheney’s audience of fellow Republicans is partly responsible for those cuts.
A significant chunk of the House GOP members serving today were elected after Cheney was vice president.
In the last few years, there has been a growing divide inside the party about the U.S. role in international conflicts. Many elected in the last two elections have focused on shrinking the size of government and are skeptical of U.S intervention overseas.
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, said the pitch to highlight national security was received positively by rank-and-file members, but he also admitted that the cost to boost the U.S. forces would be “significant.”
Kinzinger told CNN he shared Cheney’s concerns about declining military readiness. He said he hoped his colleagues who have focused on slashing federal budgets, listened to Cheney’s warning about the declining resources for the military, specifically those caused by across-the-board cuts as a result of “sequestration.”
“I hope my colleagues hear it, because you realize sequester is damaging when it’s too late,” Kinzinger said.
Cheney told members he would outline more specifics about what action he advocates the United States should take in a speech Wednesday — the same day as the President’s prime-time address to the nation from the White House.
A press release about Cheney’s speech at the American Enterprise Institute is titled “9/11 and the future of U.S. foreign policy.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, summed up Cheney’s advice to GOP members about the November elections: “Keep the eye on the safety and security of the country.”