White House insists it may strike Syria without congressional approval

The White House insisted Monday that it was legally able to launch a strike on Syria without congressional approval, even as it intensified its courting of lawmakers to support military action.

White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler told The New York Times that a strike would be lawful under both domestic and international law. She told the paper that the president could strike because of the “important national interests” surrounding the use of chemical weapons, even without Congress or U.N. approval.

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Ruemmler contended that, while the Syria situation “may not fit under a traditionally recognized legal basis under international law,” it would nevertheless be “justified and legitimate.”

“The president believed that it was important to enhance the legitimacy of any action that would be taken by the executive,” Ruemmler added, “to seek congressional approval of that action and have it be seen, again as a matter of legitimacy both domestically and internationally, that there was a unified American response to the horrendous violation of the international norm against chemical weapons use.”

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken later on Friday told reporters he “didn’t speak very artfully” when he said last week it was neither the “desire” nor the “intention” of President Obama to pursue a strike absent authorization.

“The president — it is clearly his desire and intent to secure the support of Congress for this action, but I don't want to get into any hypotheticals of what will or will not happen after the vote,” he said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney also stressed that a strike would be a “legitimate response” to chemical weapons use.

The posturing comes as officials say that the president's threat of using military force has begun to pay dividends. Earlier in the day, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said his country would consider a deal to put its chemical weapons under international control in a bid to avert a military strike.

“It is precisely because of this very public discussion and presentation of evidence that we're engaged in, and because of the accumulating international support for action, that the pressure that all of that has brought to bear on Assad,” Carney said.