President Obama told congressional leaders at a White House meeting on Tuesday he doesn’t need their authorization to expand his military campaign against Islamic terrorists.
The president offered the assurance one day before a prime-time address he’s scheduled to give to the nation.
Polls show that confidence in Obama’s foreign policy is eroding just as anxiety over the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has peaked.
Seven in 10 Americans believe the group has the ability to launch an attack against the United States, according to a CNN poll released Monday, while just 30 percent say Obama has presented a clear plan for dealing with the group.
The president is expected to use the speech to announce the expanded use of airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, as well as his administration’s efforts to build an international coalition to confront the terror threat.
The president is also weighing the possibility of airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, as well as asking the United Nations to pass a binding resolution requiring governments to prevent the flow of foreign fighters to the region.
While Obama told the House and Senate leaders he would welcome congressional action that demonstrates a unified front, the president told the bipartisan group “he has the authority he needs to take action against (ISIS) in accordance with the mission he will lay out in his address,” according to the White House.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called on Obama to better clarify his strategy this week, and the White House has said the president will offer a frank “assessment of this critical national security priority.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest cautioned that the address would not provide a timeline for the military campaign, nor was Obama expected to outline costs for the operation.
Just a year ago, Obama asked Congress to authorize military action against Syria after reports that the country’s military had used chemical weapons against its opponents. Obama argued he did not need Congress’s authority to launch strikes but responded to calls at the time from both parties that lawmakers be given a say in the decision.
Obama’s move appeared to backfire when it became clear his administration would lose a vote on the strikes. A diplomatic deal brokered in part by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons for destruction, ended up canceling the vote.
Tuesday’s meeting with congressional leaders offered little additional insight into Obama’s plans, only reinforcing a growing sentiment that 12 months after the last Syria debate, lawmakers in both parties want to avoid a politically difficult authorization vote ahead of the midterm elections.
None of the four leaders present in the meeting mentioned the need for congressional action following the meeting, nor did they offer many clues as to what new strategy elements Obama might announce.
An aide to Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE (R-Ohio) said the president used the meeting to lay out “some of the ideas he has already discussed publicly about how to combat this threat.”
The official said BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE signaled support for the president if he decided to deploy the military to train and advise Iraqi forces or target ISIS leadership, and that the group also discussed training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition, which is battling both ISIS and the central government in Damascus.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Obama spent the meeting offering “a valuable opportunity for consultation on advancing security and stability in the region and beyond.”
“I’m just waiting for the president’s speech tomorrow,” added Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThe Hill's 12:30 Report Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs If Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first MORE (D-Nev.). “I’m glad to have been at the White House, had a little preview of it, I look forward to it.”
It’s not clear how the president’s declaration that he does not need a vote to pursue his expanded military strategy will play on Capitol Hill.
While some congressional aides have suggested most lawmakers would like to avoid a vote, several bills have been offered to give the president Congress’s authority to take further actions against ISIS.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress McConnell: Trump's speech should be 'tweet free' Protesters crash McConnell's speech MORE (R-Ky.), speaking before the meeting with the president, said he believed Obama should seek some sort of congressional approval “because that’s the way you hear from those of us who represent everyone in the country.”
“He really ought to be asking for our support whether or not he may think he’s authorized to do what he intends to do. I think it would be in his best interests and the country’s best interests,” he added.
An aide later clarified that McConnell was not necessarily demanding a vote on a new use-of-force resolution, and some prominent GOP lawmakers — including Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamBack to the future: Congress should look to past for Fintech going forward CNN to host town hall featuring John McCain, Lindsey Graham Club for Growth launches ad targeting GOP tax writer MORE (R-S.C.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioConquering Trump returns to conservative summit Rubio brushes off demonstrator asking about town halls A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (R-Fla.) — have said Obama does not need explicit approval.
Separately, the White House said it was committed to working with Capitol Hill. Earnest said Tuesday that “dozens” of members of both parties had received classified briefings from administration officials in the past week, and that every member of Congress would be welcomed to classified briefings on Thursday.
“That is an indication and just gives you a little snapshot of this administration’s commitment to robust consultation with Congress,” Earnest said.
—Alexander Bolton contributed to this story.
This story was posted at 5:59 p.m. and updated at 6:19 p.m. and 8:22 p.m.