Obama officials consult with key lawmakers on actions against Syria

Senior Obama administration officials have reached out to House and Senate committee chairmen over the last 24 hours on Syria, the latest sign that officials may be moving quickly toward military strikes against that country.

House aides said senior Defense Department officials spoke with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) Monday evening and that Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) on Monday night.

A Senate aide said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) also spoke with Kerry about Syria on Monday night.

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Those conversations happened just hours after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he spoke with the White House about Syria. Boehner called those talks a "preliminary communication."

But there are increasing signs that the broader outreach is an attempt by the Obama administration to fulfill its consultation requirement with Congress under the War Powers Resolution (WPR). That 1973 resolution sets the rules under which the executive branch can engage in military actions and, among other things, calls on the executive branch to consult with members in "every possible instance."

Report language accompanying the resolution shows that Congress contemplated substantive talks with the administration before sending military assets into the field.

"[C]onsultation in this provision means that a decision is pending on a problem and that Members of Congress are being asked by the President for their advice and opinions and, in appropriate circumstances, their approval of action contemplated," that report said. "Furthermore, for consultation to be meaningful, the President himself must participate and all information relevant to the situation must be made available."

Boehner's office on Monday made similar reference to the need for "meaningful" talks with the White House, a sign that both sides are following the terms of the WPR.
 
"The Speaker made clear that before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

With many expecting the Obama administration to launch missile attacks against Syria in a matter of days, some congressional sources said they believe action will now be taken without any formal declaration of war from Congress, but under the resolution's national emergency provisions.

"I don't think they'll pass anything, to be honest with you," said one House aide, who added that a resolution after the fact is also unlikely. "I don't see any resolution ... in September either."

Under the WPR, military action taken without a declaration of war must be followed by a report to Congress after two days. After 60 days from when that report is submitted, military action must halt unless further authorized by Congress.

A national security justification is likely to be called into question by some members who oppose action without explicit authorization from Congress. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), for example, has been arguing all week that it is "unquestionably unconstitutional" for Obama to strike Syria without congressional authorization.

Amash has also called for the House to reconvene to take up questions related to Syria.

But House aides who agreed to comment said there are no signs that the House will be called back into session so far. Additionally, one senior House Republican this week has indicated support for a national security rationale.

Speaking on Fox News yesterday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said his top concern was making sure Syria's chemical weapons don't fall into the hands of al Qaeda. McCaul said he supports limited military action in Syria to neutralize the country's chemical weapons.