Updated 6:26 p.m. | President Barack Obama said Thursday it's premature to go to Congress to authorize a strategy to defeat ISIS — because he doesn't have one yet.
"We don't have a strategy yet," Obama told reporters after being asked about striking ISIS in Syria, saying he didn't want to "put the cart before the horse."
The line — sure to be repeated often by his critics — came as Republicans have been repeatedly demanding a strategy to defeat ISIS.
Obama said he's asked the military for options to take on ISIS, but a decision to expand strikes into Syria isn't imminent and he suggested it would not happen before Congress returns from recess.
He said there was a role for Congress to play once that strategy is in place. But he said that he didn't wait for Congress before launching airstrikes in Iraq because he had a responsibility to protect the American people and could not wait. He said that he has consulted with Congress on his actions to date and that feedback has been positive. "There will be a military aspect" to fighting the Islamic State, and it "will be important for Congress to know what this is, in part because it might cost some money," he said.
“The President needs to develop a regional strategy, working with our allies, to defeat ISIL and to use the full extent of his authorities to attack this enemy force. The President needs to present this plan to the Congress, and the American people, and where the President believes he lacks authority to execute such a strategy, he needs to explain to the Congress how additional authority for the use of force will protect America. If the President is prepared to engage Congress with a strategic plan to protect the U.S. and our allies from ISIL, I believe he will have significant congressional support. But don’t forget, the threat from ISIL is real and it’s growing—and it is time for President Obama to exercise some leadership in launching a response.”After the news conference, the White House press machine went into overdrive trying to clarify the president's remarks. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said both on Twitter and on CNN that the president has a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS in Iraq but said his not having a strategy remark was specifically related to military options to take on the group in Syria.
Asked if Obama would seek congressional authorization before launching attacks in Syria, Earnest said "it depends on what our goal is" and would only commit to congressional consultation.
During the news conference, Obama also rejected the notion he was undermining his earlier opposition to accumulating power in the executive branch with his unilateral actions.
On Ukraine, Obama was subdued. He said Russia would face increasing costs for the latest "incursion" into Ukraine but announced no new actions beyond talking to European leaders next week. He said a military confrontation with Russia was not in the cards and noted that Ukraine was not a NATO ally. He repeated, however, that the United States took seriously its NATO obligations to defend other countries in the region.
He said that he believes that Russia is being weakened by its actions, but brushed off questions about sending Ukraine arms.