Pressed that war powers already reside in Congress, Hoyer noted that some presidents have blurred those lines. He pointed to the way the Iraq conflict was handled.
“This amendment reiterates the intention of the Congress to be involved in whatever actions are ultimately deemed to be appropriate and necessary,” Hoyer said. “The bottom line is [the Syria conflict is] an extraordinarily complicated situation, and a good outcome is hard to project at this point in time.”
That 40-year-old law emphasizes that the constitutional power to declare war rests squarely with the legislative branch. It was passed during the Vietnam War, when congressional concerns that the executive branch was sidestepping Congress to launch military operations bubbled over.
The Radel amendment comes as the Obama administration plans to step up its intervention into the years-old Syrian uprising.
In June, after repeatedly resisting calls for direct military aid, the administration announced plans to begin arming Syria's rebels in their fight against the regime of President Bashar Assad. The change in strategy was the result of findings that the government had used chemical weapons in that conflict.
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee announced that it will allow the administration to proceed with plans to arm the rebels fighting the Syrian regime.
Also Monday, the House Rules Committee approved a rule for the 2014 Defense Department appropriations bill that allows a vote on the Radel amendment, which could come as early as Tuesday night.
Hoyer warned that the conflict presents “an extraordinarily complicated challenge” for U.S. policymakers, who have to be careful not to empower the wrong people.
“There is a definite risk that … some very bad people would take advantage of whatever outcome occurs,” he said. “There are some very bad people involved in the effort to unseat Assad, for their own reasons, not for democratic objectives.”
As part of the Defense funding bill, the House is also poised to vote on a bipartisan amendment to end the National Security Agency's blanket collection of Americans' phone and email records.
Sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a Tea Party conservative, and John Conyers (D-Mich.), the liberal ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, the measure is a response to revelations made earlier in the year that the NSA has swept up billions communications from American citizens in the name of fighting terrorism.
Hoyer on Tuesday suggested he and other Democratic leaders will oppose the measure, but he also noted that it will likely get some Democratic support. He characterized the measure as “a very broad brush amendment,” but emphasized that Democrats are not whipping members against it.
“I think there will be people who will vote for the Amash amendment, [but] I would hope it would not get a majority,” he said.