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Kerry seeks to explain decision to get Congress backing on military action against Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday sought to explain the White House’s shift from taking immediate military action against Syria to waiting first for congressional approval.

In an interview on Meet the Press, Kerry said President Obama decided the U.S. “would act with greater moral authority and greater strength” by asking Congress for approval, as it would show the U.S. was acting in a “united way.”

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“He didn't think it was worthwhile acting and having the Syrians and a whole bunch of other folks looking at the United States arguing about whether or not it was legitimate or should he have done it or should he have moved faster,” Kerry said on NBC's Meet the Press.

Kerry, who made appearances on five networks Sunday to explain the administration's position, said Obama “absolutely” did not decide to ask Congress for approval because of a fear he lacked political support.

The comments from Kerry were striking since on Friday, he had laid out an aggressive case for why the U.S. should take military action against Syria given intelligence that the country used chemical weapons against civilians. At the time, it appeared a strike was imminent.

A little more than 24 hours later, Obama said he agreed there should be a military strike, but said he would first ask Congress for authorization.

One factor that likely played into Obama's decision: The British Parliament's rejection of a military strike on Thursday, something that came as a surprise to United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron and the White House.


Kerry on Sunday refused to weigh in on what the White House would do if Congress rejected military action. Several lawmakers appearing on Sunday shows said there were significant doubts that Congress would approve a military strike.

“We don’t contemplate that Congress is going to vote no,” Kerry said on CNN. “We think case grows more powerful by the day.”

On ABC, he said: “We are not going to lose this vote.”

Kerry on Sunday said that people should "be celebrating" that Obama is going to Congress for approval.

He asserted that Syrian President Bashar Assad was "already on the defensive" and that even the potential of strikes is "significantly impact[ing]" the regime.

“People should be celebrating that the president is not moving unilaterally, that he is honoring the request that he heard from many people in Congress to consult and to be engaged with them, and I think realizing that the Assad regime is already on the defensive,” he said on Fox News Sunday.

“They are being significantly impacted by the potential of these strikes. We do not lose anything. We actually gain, and what we gain is the legitimacy of the full-throated response of the Congress of the United States and the president, acting together after our democratic process has worked properly,” he said.

This story was posted at 9:13 a.m. and updated at 11:00 a.m.