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House Speaker Paul Ryan on Monday panned President Barack Obama’s call to ban people on the federal no-fly list from buying guns, calling it “a distraction” from the broader war on terror.

But Ryan, R-Janesville, said he’s open to Obama’s call for Congress to authorize military force against the Islamic State terrorist group. Ryan’s remarks came in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal on Monday morning.

Obama, in an Oval Office speech to the nation Sunday night, outlined his administration’s approach to fighting terrorism. He acknowledged last week’s mass shooting that killed 14 and wounded 21 in San Bernardino, California, was an act of terrorism. Authorities say a married couple carried out the attack and she pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and its leader in a Facebook post.

But Ryan said Obama’s speech had a crucial omission: what his administration will do differently to fight terror groups such as the Islamic State.

“What I heard more was a defense of his containment strategy — not an adjustment to a new strategy,” Ryan said. “We should not try to defend what has been our failing policy.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, echoed Ryan’s criticisms, telling radio host Charlie Sykes that Obama “offered no new ideas.”

Johnson’s preferred alternative to Obama’s policy includes sending U.S. troops to Syria to battle Islamic State forces. Johnson criticized Obama for saying in the speech that the U.S. shouldn’t get entangled in another Mideast ground war.

But U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, sided with Obama.

“While some are advocating for boots on the ground, the last thing we need is to get drawn into another costly ground war,” Pocan told the State Journal in a statement.

In the speech, Obama called on Congress to bar people on the federal no-fly list, kept by the federal government’s Terrorist Screening Center, from buying guns. Pocan and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, favor this.

Ryan dismissed the idea, saying the no-fly list includes many people not suspected of terrorist acts. He noted the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy said he was stopped and questioned at airports in 2004 because, according to Kennedy, his name was on the list.

“A mid-level bureaucrat can put anybody on a no-fly list with no due process rights,” Ryan said.

Obama noted in his speech that he has ordered thousands of air strikes against sites controlled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. But he called on Congress to formally authorize the use of military force against the group.

Ryan said he believes such an authorization “could be a strong signal to send that we are going on offense” against the Islamic State. Ryan said a sticking point could be concerns that such an authorization could limit what the next president could do in that conflict.

Baldwin said in a statement earlier this year that she favors a congressional vote to authorize military force against ISIS. But Baldwin said she fears an Obama administration proposal for such an authorization “may leave the door open to putting boots on the ground for combat operations and put the United States at risk of repeating the mistakes of the past and becoming bogged down in an open-ended conflict.”

In the speech, Obama warned against “a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria,” saying that’s precisely what terror groups such as ISIS want to aid recruitment.

Johnson has said he wants the U.S. to spearhead an international military coalition to defeat ISIS, similar to the one assembled in the First Gulf War.

“Any nation that is in the civilized free world should be supporting us,” Johnson said Monday.

• GOP presidential candidates react. A6


Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.