Obama Ready to Attack Syria, But Will Consult Congress First

Michael Catalini

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."