Obama Ready to Attack Syria, But Will Consult Congress First

The military strike is not time sensitive, president says during Rose Garden speech.

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, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. Obama said he has decided that the United States should take military action against Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack, and said he will seek congressional authorization for the use of force. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
Aug. 31, 2013, 10:29 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Barack Obama on Sat­urday said the United States should take mil­it­ary ac­tion against Syr­i­an dic­tat­or Bashar al-As­sad but that he will first seek au­thor­iz­a­tion from Con­gress.

The U.S. mil­it­ary is pre­pared to launch an at­tack, Obama said dur­ing a Rose Garden speech, but plans for a pos­sible strike are not time-sens­it­ive. Con­gress re­turns from its Au­gust re­cess on Sept. 9, so it ap­pears that a mil­it­ary strike on Syr­ia would not come un­til then.

Obama, with Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden at his side, said that House Speak­er John Boehner, Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell agreed to sched­ule a de­bate and a vote when law­makers re­turn. It is un­clear if Con­gress would re­turn early to ad­dress Syr­ia.

The de­cision to con­sult Con­gress be­fore launch­ing a strike comes after law­makers pe­ti­tioned the White House on the is­sue for the past week and after the Brit­ish House of Com­mons de­feated Prime Min­is­ter Dav­id Camer­on’s mo­tion to au­thor­ize an at­tack against the As­sad re­gime.

Un­der­scor­ing the case against As­sad laid out earli­er this week by Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry, Obama ar­gued that the strike is ne­ces­sary be­cause the re­gime killed more than 1,000 of its own cit­izens, en­dangered U.S. al­lies in the re­gion and en­cour­aged the pro­lif­er­a­tion of chem­ic­al weapons.

“While I be­lieve I have the au­thor­ity,” Obama said, “I know that the coun­try will be stronger if we take this course.”

Re­id said that the use of force agains the As­sad re­gime is jus­ti­fied and that the Sen­ate would hold pub­lic hear­ings next week. Re­id’s state­ment was his first since the ad­min­stra­tion began ratchet­ing up its rhet­or­ic against the As­sad re­gime for the use of chem­ic­al weapons on Aug. 21.

The ma­jor­ity lead­er said that Sen. Robert Men­en­dez of New Jer­sey, chair­man of the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, will be­gin hold­ing pub­lic hear­ings next week. Sens. Carl Lev­in, chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee and Di­anne Fein­stein, chair­man of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, will hold clas­si­fied and un­clas­si­fied hear­ings next week. 

A vote on a res­ol­u­tion au­thor­iz­ing the use of force, Re­id, said, will oc­cur dur­ing the week of Sept. 9. 

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers, though, ex­pect to shced­ule a meas­ure the week of Sept. 9, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from Boehner’s of­fice. Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue that this will al­low the pres­id­ent time to make his case to the pub­lic and to law­makers. 

House Demo­crats, on the oth­er hand, are call­ing on Boehner to bring le­gis­lat­ors back from their Au­gust re­cess. 

Rep. Eli­ot En­gel, D-N.Y., the rank­ing Demo­crat on the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee said he wants mem­bers to re­turn “as soon as pos­sible,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from his of­fice.

Shortly be­fore the pres­id­ent spoke, Sen­ate Minor­ity Whip John Cornyn of Texas called on Obama to get con­gres­sion­al au­thor­iz­a­tion be­fore an at­tack, and after the an­nounce­ment, tweeted that the pres­id­ent was “right to seek a vote of con­gress.”

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans re­acted pos­it­ively to the pres­id­ent’s de­cision to seek Con­gress’ bless­ing on a strike.

The “pres­id­ent’s role as com­mand­er-in-chief is al­ways strengthened when he en­joys the ex­pressed sup­port of the Con­gress,” Mc­Con­nell wrote on Twit­ter.

Sen. Bob Cork­er of Ten­nesse, the rank­ing Re­pub­lic­an on the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, said,”At this point in our coun­try’s his­tory, this is ab­so­lutely the right de­cision, and I look for­ward to see­ing what the Ad­min­is­tra­tion brings for­ward.”

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