President Barack Obama announced Saturday that he has decided to seek congressional authorization for a strike on Syria after lawmakers return from their August recess.
In a high-pressure Rose Garden speech, Obama said he has decided that limited action should be taken by the United States to strike Syria and that he believes he has the authority to act on his own, but he said he believes the United States would be stronger if it spoke with one voice on the issue.
“I ask you to take this vote for our national security,” Obama said, directing his remarks to Congress. “I ask you, members of Congress, to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment.”
Obama said the Syrian regime’s decision to use chemical weapons against its own people was a challenge to the world and to the United States.
“What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” he asked. “If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?”
Congress does not appear inclined to head back to town early.
“In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of Sept. 9. This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people,” a joint statement from House GOP leaders said.
Late Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said hearings and briefing would take place next week and a vote would take place “no later than” the week of Sept. 9, when Congress is currently expected back.
The president did not specifically ask Congress to return early from its recess, noting a forceful response is not time sensitive and could happen a month from now.
Obama’s decision came after numerous lawmakers in both parties asked him to come to Congress before taking action, and an NBC News poll Friday showed overwhelming public support for going to Congress first.
But going to Congress is a gamble. While Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., backed the president in strong statements of their own Saturday, it’s far from clear at this point that Obama will win a vote on Congressional authorization, given public reluctance to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East. Many lawmakers in both parties Saturday said in statements that they had not yet made up their mind on how to vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised the president’s decision to come to Congress.
“The President’s role as commander-in-chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., also praised the president.
“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 and to a vigorous debate on this important authorization. Further, now that the president has decided to use force and seek authorization, it is imperative that he immediately begins using every ounce of his energy to make his case to the American people,” Corker said.
But Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., said that while he was pleased Obama was coming to Congress, he opposed going to war.
“I don’t see where America is threatened,” Rangel said on CNN. If the vote was held now, “there is absolutely no question I would vote ‘no.’”