White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough says no threats were made to the families of slain U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff for considering ransom payments to their captors. McDonough, making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, said the administration merely explained what the law is regarding such ransom payments: They're prohibited.

"We didn't threaten anybody, but we made clear what the law is," McDonough said on "Fox News Sunday." "That's our responsibility to make sure we explain the law and uphold the law."

Foley and Sotloff were executed by Islamic State militants, who posted videos of the beheadings on the Internet. Foley's parents said Friday the government threatened them with prosecution if they tried to raise money to pay a ransom for their son, who was kidnapped in 2012.

On CNN's "State of the Union" and ABC's "This Week," McDonough pushed President Obama's plan for fighting Islamic State, or ISIS, militants, and urged Congress to fund anti-ISIS groups in Syria. He pledged, however, there is no intention to send U.S. soldiers into the area. Rather, he said, the plan features bolstering local fighting forces.

"It's going to be Iraqi and other boots on the ground that are bringing this fight to ISIL [the way the administration refers to ISIS]," he said on "State of the Union."

On NBC's "Meet the Press" and "Fox News Sunday" McDonough acknowledged the United States is at war with ISIS and called the situation "complicated."

"Success looks like an ISIL that no longer threatens our friends in the region, no longer threatens the United States -- an ISIL that can't accumulate followers, or threaten Muslims in Syria, Iran, Iraq or otherwise," McDonough said.

Secretary of State John Kerry, however, said too much emphasis is being put on the use of the word "war." On CBS' "Face the Nation," Kerry said the terminology doesn't matter.

"In terms of al Qaeda, which we have used the word 'war' with, yeah ... we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. And in the same context if you want to use it, yes, we are at war with ISIL in that sense," Kerry said. "But I think it's waste of time to focus on that. Frankly, lets consider what we have to do to degrade and defeat ISIL.

"What I'm focused on, obviously, is getting done what we need to get done to ISIL."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the administration's approach "delusional."

In a speech Wednesday, Obama said the U.S. would conduct bombing raids on ISIS targets but would not commit combat troops to the fight.

"It is our fight," Graham said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's not just their fight. This is a radical Islamic army that's pushing a theory of a master religion.

“You cannot create an army to destroy ISIL without an American component. … This is war.”

Gens. Paul Eaton and Jim Dubik said on "State of the Union" Obama's plan could work but success will depend on what follows.

"It's not an impossible venture," Dubik said.