President Obama’s primetime address from the Oval Office on Sunday night was harshly criticized by congressional Republicans for being “a political sales job” instead of “serious, sustained action,” in the words of the House Armed Services Committee chairman.
Obama’s speech included a push for gun-control legislation and telling people it’s the “responsibility of Americans of all faiths to reject discrimination” against Muslims.
“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for,” he said. “Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless. And by drawing upon every aspect of American power.”
HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) called the address “an attempt to shore up the eroding confidence that Americans have in his terrorism policy.”
“The marginal changes in military tactics he has taken since Paris demonstrate that the president continues to be reactive, rather than go on the offensive against a dangerous enemy,” Thornberry said. “He has consistently underestimated this threat and has consistently been a step behind in dealing with it. I see no evidence tonight that he is changing his views or policies.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the address highlighted how Obama’s counterterrorism efforts “have atrophied.”
“If we’re going to prevent additional attacks, President Obama is going to have to lay out the broad, overarching strategy needed to win. And in the House, we’re committed to providing the support needed,” he said, adding that Congress will be voting on strengthening the Visa Waiver Program — Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) bipartisan bill is tougher than what the White House has proposed — and pushing legislation through the Foreign Affairs Committee “to combat terrorists’ use of social media, and get critical weapons to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS on the ground in Syria.”
“Ultimately, however, defeating ISIS will require determined presidential leadership,” Royce said. “President Obama must use his authority as commander in chief to lead this fight to destroy ISIS.”
“Unfortunately,” the chairman added, “we heard repackaged half-measures.”
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain (R-Ariz.), said Obama “failed to obscure what has become increasingly clear to the American people: that we are not winning the war against ISIL, and that the threat of terrorism against our homeland is real and growing.”
“President Obama is fond of invoking lessons of our nation’s recent wars. Yet the simplest and most important lesson is the one he failed to mention tonight: apocalyptic terrorists cannot be allowed to have sanctuary in ungoverned spaces from which to plan attacks against us,” McCain said. “Yet after more than a year of an indecisive military campaign, ISIL maintains its sanctuaries in Iraq and Syria from which to conduct and inspire attacks like Paris and San Bernardino.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the speech “no new plan, just a half-hearted attempt to defend and distract from a failing policy.”
“The horrific events of recent weeks remind us that any hope to contain ISIS has been a failure,” Ryan said. “Until we hear from the president what more can be done —with our military, our intelligence-gathering, and our international partners — we will remain one step behind our enemy. This is not just the next president’s problem. It is our problem, and we must confront it today.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, lauded Obama as “resolute and strong” and echoed his call for gun control.
“No terrorist can overcome the strength of our values,” Pelosi said. “We will not allow terrorists to succeed in blinding us with fear. Together, we will honor our Constitution, protect our communities, and defeat ISIS.”