By Erik Wasson - 09/11/13 03:04 PM EDT
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued Wednesday that President Obama should consider bombing Syria without congressional approval, because the credibility of the White House is now on the line.
“He notified everybody the next morning,” McCain noted at a Wall Street Journal breakfast roundtable.
The senior Republican acknowledged the decision would be a difficult one, but he said he did not think members of his own party would try to remove President Obama from office if he acted in the vital national interest.
“They’re not going to impeach the president. They’re not that crazy,” he told reporters after the event.
McCain said he has been wrestling with the question of whether Obama should ignore Congress.
“There are times when the president of the United States has to act in the national interest and that clashes with my view we are a nation of laws, governed by the Constitution and the separation of powers,” he said.
“I do believe there are times, particularly prior to World War II, we have the example of Franklin Roosevelt taking actions that Congress would never have approved … Abraham Lincoln acted unilaterally in the Civil War,” he added.
McCain said the world should know within as little as 48 hours whether a Russian proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control is merely a “rope-a-dope” stalling tactic.
The best way to test the Russian proposal, he said, is to bring it to the United Nations Security Council and see if the Russians veto a resolution that is backed by the threat of force and which authorizes international weapons inspections on the ground in Syria.
If the Russian proposal is a ruse, Obama will have a stronger argument in favor of military action.
“I think that, one, that the president of the United States should go back, if this fails, this Russian initiative, and convince the American people again,” McCain said. "Then I think the president has to decide what’s in our vital national interest.”
“If he launched an attack on Syria without the endorsement of Congress, it would be vastly more complicated if Congress had already acted. If he acted without the agreement of Congress, you could make the argument before the resolution was passed … that he is acting as other president have.”
“It he is a very, very difficult situation,” McCain said.
He said that a failed vote in Congress would be “catastrophic” and could damage future presidential power. Failure to act could embolden Iran, threaten Israel and “diminish” the White House in the eyes of the world, he said.
McCain acknowledged that the congressional GOP has emerged as the chief obstacle to acting in Syria. He said a “battle” is raging for the soul of the Republican Party and internationalists must prevail over isolationists, whom he called “wacko-birds.”
He said he would be having dinner Wednesday with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a leading opponent of involvement in Syria.
McCain acknowledged that missteps by the Bush administration in Iraq have fostered a renewed isolationism.
“The American people and the world were not told the truth about weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “I understand why they are skeptical.”
McCain said Obama’s Tuesday night speech, overall, was “good,” but Obama should have shown more support for the rebel movement and tried to dispel any idea they are Muslim extremists.
“They must have been dispirited last night by president’s failure to mention that they deserved our support,” he said.