White House won't commit to asking Congress for Syria strike

The White House on Monday refused to commit to asking for congressional authority for airstrikes in Syria.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest emphasized that President Obama has made no decision on launching airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters based in Syria.

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He added that Obama is “committed to coordinating and consulting with Congress,” but said the president “will not hesitate to use his authority” to keep Americans safe.

Earnest also insisted that strikes on ISIS positions in Syria being contemplated by the administration were “a different situation” from the strikes on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces that the administration asked Congress to approve almost exactly one year ago.

“What we're talking about now is not about the Assad regime, but about this threat that's posed by [ISIS] that's operating both in Iraq and in Syria,” Earnest said.

ISIS is battling Assad as part of its attempt to form an Islamist caliphate across territory currently held by Syria and Iraq.

U.S. strikes have already been made against ISIS in Iraq.

Obama made a surprising decision last year to ask for Congress’s authority for strikes against Assad.

He explained his decision by saying that the country would be “stronger” if he asked for Congress’s approval.

“I wasn’t elected to avoid hard decisions,” Obama said at the time. “And neither were the members of the House and the Senate.”

But the White House did not ask for Congress’s authority to launch strikes in Iraq against ISIS.

It’s not clear whether strikes will be launched against ISIS positions in Syria.

Earnest said Obama, who is scheduled to meet on Monday afternoon with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, will see a wide range of plans for the military.

“There is a range of ways for us to confront this threat, that we need to confront this threat in a sustainable way,” Earnest said. “It can't just be through brute U.S. military force.”

Earlier in the day, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem warned that any strikes without the permission of the Assad regime would be a violation of Syrian sovereignty.

“Syria is ready to cooperate and coordinate on the regional and international level in the war on terror,” Moallem said, according to The Associated Press. “But any effort to combat terrorism should come in coordination with the Syrian government.”

The Obama administration shrugged off that contention, with Earnest noting that the U.S. had not sought the permission of the Pakistani government in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

“We're not looking for the approval of the Syrian regime,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki Monday.

Republicans have criticized Obama for not acting more decisively to take on the threat faced by ISIS. 

On Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the group posed “a direct threat to the American homeland” and accused Obama of “becoming derelict in his duties as commander in chief” by not “aggressively confronting” the group “wherever they reside, including Syria.”

“I fear their foot-dragging in confronting increased radical Islamic threats is setting the stage for the creation of an even more powerful [ISIS] which further terrorizes the region and poses even graver threats to the American homeland,” Graham said.

Separately, the White House did indicate that it might need to ask Congress for supplemental funding for strikes in Syria.

“Any time we're talking about some military actions like the ones that the president ordered a couple weeks ago, that's going to require some resources,” Earnest said.

“If additional resources are requested or needed, we'll make that request and we hope that we'll see the kind of bipartisan support we've traditionally seen from Congress ... to ensure that our men and women in uniform who are putting their lives on the line to protect the country are adequately and consistently funded,” he said.