President Obama told top members of Congress on Wednesday that he won't need to ask for congressional permission for the next steps he will take on the crisis in Iraq, according to the Senate's top Republican.
"The president just basically briefed us on the situation in Iraq, indicated he didn't feel he had any need for authority from us for steps he might take, and indicated he would keep us posted," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after a White House meeting about Iraq.
While top Republicans had been highly critical of Obama earlier in the week for not providing a plan on Iraq, the tenor of their criticism has died down. McConnell characterized the meeting by saying they "had a good discussion."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said Tuesday that the administration doesn't "need any more authority than they already have to do whatever they need to do there."
In a statement later, Reid said, "the President said he is not currently considering actions that would require Congressional approval but was very clear that he would consult with Congress if that changed."
A senior Democratic aide briefed on the meeting said McConnell's comments about congressional approval mischaracterized the substance of the meeting.
House Speaker John Boehner didn't issue a statement on the meeting, but a House Republican leadership aide said there was no disagreement with how McConnell described whether Obama would seek congressional approval.
Despite no signs from the White House that it will formally ask Congress for authority to take any kind of military action, there are pledges to keep leaders informed. The White House said the president "asked each of the leaders for their view of the current situation and pledged to continue consulting closely with Congress going forward."
"It was a good meeting. Everybody seems satisfied. The president is going to keep us as informed as he can as this process moves forward," Reid said back at the Capitol on Wednesday.
While top Democratic leaders have asserted that Obama retains such an authority, some Democrats question it and want Congress to be able to weigh in. The administration could use the 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force resolution, for instance, but the legality of such a move is still unclear.
The leaders wouldn't divulge what options the administration is weighing to respond to the violence in the region. Obama has already ruled out sending on-the-ground combat troops, which is something that congressional Democrats have stood against. The U.S. will be sending up to 275 armed forces to provide embassy security.
Earlier in the day, the Associated Press reported that Obama is moving away from military airstrikes as a response.
Obama updated congressional leaders on the U.S. response to diminish the crisis by "urging Iraq's leaders to set aside sectarian agendas and to come together with a sense of national unity," according to the White House readout of the meeting, and also briefed the lawmakers on American efforts to strengthen Iraqi security forces in their fight against the militants.
This story has been updated to reflect new comments about the meeting.
This article appears in the June 19, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.