The speaker of the House wants to know what the legal justification for war with Syria is. And more than a quarter of the House says President Barack Obama can’t launch an attack on Syria alone. But the president has yet to give them — or the public — a response.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest repeatedly declined Thursday to give a legal justification for an attack on Syria — something that the United Kingdom has already detailed — or give an explanation on how the president can act on his own without Congressional authorization.
That will come if and when the president decides to launch an attack, Earnest told reporters.
In the meantime, Earnest said that the White House has repeatedly consulted with Congress and will continue to do so, although only senior lawmakers have gotten briefings so far.
“The president believes strongly in robust congressional consultation,” Earnest said, adding that he wasn’t ruling out all lawmakers getting a briefing at some point.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, in a letter to the White House on Wednesday, called the consultation so far “insufficient” and asked the White House to provide a legal justification for a possible strike. And 116 lawmakers signed a letter saying an attack without Congress would be unconstitutional. Another 53 members — led by Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California — sent a letter to Obama Thursday urging the president “to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis.”
The administration will brief senior lawmakers Thursday evening in an unclassified conference call, and a declassified intelligence assessment will be made public, Earnest said. He declined to discuss the United States’ classified assessment, but noted that senior lawmakers who have access to classified briefings, including Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., have determined that the Assad regime carried out a chemical weapon attack.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.