September 1, 2013

Obama will seek Congress' approval for strikes against Syria

The president decides that the U.S. should take military action.


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President Barack Obama stands with Vice President Joe Biden as he makes a statement about Syria in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on Saturday. Obama said he has decided that the United States should take military action against Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack, and he will seek congressional authorization for the use of force.

The Associated Press

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On Friday, Obama began to think he wanted to seek congressional approval, even though the White House said none of the four congressional leaders asked him to do that. He first bounced the idea off chief of staff Denis McDonough in a 45-minute walk around the South Lawn before phoning his key advisers, including Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. He met with the full National Security Council on Saturday morning for two hours.

Congress' role in advising and consenting to war has become murky. Though Congress has the constitutional authority to formally declare war, it last did so at the outset of World War II. Recent presidents have often avoided seeking legislative consent before launching military action. The 1973 War Powers Resolution, approved during the turmoil of the Vietnam War, says a president must consult with Congress.

Obama stressed Saturday that he has done that, and has the authority to strike Syria now. Everything is ready, he said.

"The chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I'm prepared to give that order," the president said.

But, he added, "having made my decision as commander-in-chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I'm also mindful that I'm the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy."

He's probably also mindful that delaying a strike buys him valuable time to build his case. United Nations inspectors left Syria early Saturday, and are expected to take several days to assess their findings.

Obama needs allies and he would like the U.N. imprimatur. In Great Britain, traditionally America's closest partner in such matters, the House of Commons last week refused to back a strike. Arab League foreign ministers, whose support is also seen as crucial, are scheduled to meet Sunday.

It's no certainty that Obama will get congressional consent. Republicans control the House of Representatives, and Speaker John Boehner last week sent the White House a series of detailed questions about the White House's strategy and objectives.

On Saturday, House Republican leaders signaled they were ready for a debate, and suggested it would go for a few days starting Sept. 9.

"This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people," the House Republican leadership said in a joint statement. "We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised."

However, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, accused Obama of "abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief" by waiting for a congressional debate.

"If Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians deserves a military response, and I believe it does, and the president is seeking congressional approval, then he should call Congress back into a special session at the earliest date," King said. "The president doesn't need 535 members of Congress to enforce his own red line."

Obama could have an easier time in the Senate, where both Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and top Republican Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., expressed support.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., had a more measured response. "I have again urged the president to use this time to help the Syrian people defend themselves by assisting vetted elements of the Syrian opposition in obtaining more effective weapons such as anti-tank weapons," he said.

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