How President Obama Decided To Seek Congressional Approval For Syria

By: ABC News Email
By: ABC News Email

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

It took seven days for President Obama to arrive at his decision to seek congressional approval for intervention in Syria’s bloody civil war.

Offering a partial glimpse into Obama’s decision-making process, senior administration officials tell ABC News it all began when the president told his National Security Council a week ago that Syria’s use of chemical weapons likely warranted a military response.

The officials, who gave the information on the condition not to be attributed by name, say the directive spurred the government into preparing scenarios and consultations with Congress — although none believed authorization from Capitol Hill was necessary or desirable.

But the final decision to act didn’t come until Friday. Around 6 p.m., during the wrap-up of a meeting between Obama and Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, the president unveiled the idea while walking on the White House grounds’ south lawn.

An hour later his senior advisers, including Dan Pfeiffer, Ben Rhodes, and Susan Rice, were called into the Oval Office where the president told them he wanted to push for Congress’ backing.

The advisers were dismissed to make the logistics happen and the president called Vice President Joe Biden, who was publicly scheduled to be in his home state of Delaware this weekend, and other members of the National Security Council, to inform them of the decision.

As officials trickled into the White House this morning, the NSC fell into debate over two main risks: That Congress would vote “no,” and the risk that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would strike his own people with chemical weapons again. But in the end, all agreed on this course of action.

These administration officials said they believe Congress will ultimately support authorization in the end, after they return from their summer recess. As far as the risk of another attack during the debate period, the sources say that given the president has already warned the global community of the American response, Assad would be in a bad spot to attempt another chemical attack.

In his afternoon remarks, Obama did not put forth a timetable on when the U.S. could act, only that the military option would be “effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now.” That guidance came from Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Martin Dempsey a week prior to the president’s decision, according to officials, and then again at the NSC meeting.

The administration says the United States has capabilities to counter any hardening of targets by Assad during the interim, and is not concerned about his abilities to move hardware.

Politically, the administration says today’s announcement was Obama’s idea alone. No congressional leaders had called for an authorization vote specifically, only consultation.

Congress is not due to return from recess until Sept. 9, and while lawmakers could theoretically return to business early, it ensures at least several days’ delay on an outcome. The administration believes the interim will allow Obama to use the upcoming G20 summit to recruit more international and domestic support for what is necessary.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

President Obama announced today that the US should pursue military intervention against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for use of chemical weapons in that country's civil war, but only after seeking approval from congress. The president hopes congress will debate and vote on a US strike when they return from their summer recess -- scheduled to end September 9.

"This attack is an assault on human dignity," the president announced in the White House' Rose Garden. "It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons."

"It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons or their proliferation to terrorist groups who'd do our people harm. In a world with many dangers this menace must be confronted," he said.

Today's declaration comes after lawmakers voiced concern this week that the White House would strike without collaboration with Capitol Hill and the same day top White House security staff briefed the Senate's parties in an unclassified conference call. Obama said he reached agreement on seeking authorization with the big four in Capitol Hill leadership, House Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

As recently as Friday President Obama said that although his administration believes it had obtained proof that chemical weapons deployed by the Syrian government, he had not yet reached a decision on how to proceed. Publicly available White House reports state that 1,429 were killed in an attack on August 21, including at least 426 children.

"After careful deliberation, I've decided that the Unites States should take military action against Syrian regime targets," he concluded today. "This would not be an open-ended intervention, we'd not put boots on the ground. Instead our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior and degrade their capacity to carry it out."

The president did not put a timetable on the possible attack, stating an order to the military to proceed would be "effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now."

President Obama did not take questions from the press for the announcement and ignored a shouted question from a pooled press reporter over whether he would forgo a strike if Congress ultimately disapproves. A low din of chanting could be heard during the president's remarks as demonstrators both for and against US intervention staged afternoon rallies outside the White House compound.

There has been deep criticism in Congress over the prospect of an American strike in Syria, from members of both parties. On Friday Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disparaged what he predicts would be an attack that does not go far enough.

"The president apparently wants to have a kind of cosmetic strike, launch a few missiles and then say, 'Well, we responded,'" he said on NBC's "Tonight Show." "This is the same president that, two years ago, said Bashar Assad had to go. It's also the president that said that there would be a red line if they used chemical weapons. Maybe that red line was written in disappearing ink."

Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., is one of a number of members fearful of a unilateral or U.S.-led strike.

"The United States should not undertake a kinetic strike before the U.N. inspectors complete their work," he said in a statement Friday. "And that the impact of such a strike would be weakened if it does not have the participation and support of a large number of nations, including Arab nations."

Still left are lawmakers including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who protested on libertarian grounds of non-intervention. Over a hundred members had written to President Obama imploring him to seek congressional approval.

Speaker Boehner voiced approval for president's move to seek authorization in a statement following the announcement. "Under the Constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress," he wrote. "We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised. In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9. This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people."

The debate has also opened up new discussion of the 1973 War Powers Act, which gives the commander-in-chief the authority to conduct military activity for 60 days without a formal declaration of war from Capitol Hill. Congress has not formally declared war since World War II: The Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, and most recently Libya were all conducted without an official declaration.

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