Past comments dog Obama, Biden as Syria response looms

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
Vice President Joe Biden speaks during The American Legion's annual convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Biden says there is no doubt that Syrian President Bashar Assad's government is responsible for the heinous use of chemical weapons. Biden's comments make him the highest-ranking U.S. official to say the Syrian regime is the culprit in a large-scale chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson) MANDATORY CREDIT

In 2007, two Democratic presidential candidates came out forcefully against unleashing America’s military might without explicit authorization from Congress. Today, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama see things in a different light.

Six years ago, Biden vowed to impeach President George W. Bush if the Republican bombed Iran without first getting congressional approval.

"The president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran, and if he does, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, I will move to impeach," Biden said at the time.

Meanwhile, Obama flatly told the Boston Globe in 2007 that no president can use military force absent an “actual or imminent threat to the nation” without getting Congress' approval.

The Libya intervention stretched Obama’s commitment to the breaking point. The PolitiFact organization, which rates politicians’ claims for accuracy, ruled that his decision to commit American forces to that effort was a “full flop” from his previous position. But the question seems to turn on what constitutes an “actual” threat.

The looming U.S. response to Syria’s alleged massacre of civilians with chemical weapons threatens to expose some of the same tensions.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday that Obama “absolutely” still holds by his answer to the Boston Globe. Left unchecked, Carney said, Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons poses an actual threat to U.S. national security.

“Allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to or threat to the United States' national security interests,” Carney said.

And Biden made clear in a rousing speech to the American Legion that the time for action is now.

“There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: The Syrian regime,” the vice president said. “The president believes — and I believe — that those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable.”

He did not, however, mention Congress.