WH: Congress will have role in ISIS strategy

President Obama will detail how the White House will work with Congress “as a partner” on a “comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in his prime-time address Wednesday night, according to a White House official.

That pledge comes despite the president telling a bipartisan group of congressional leaders on Tuesday he would not need their vote for the new strategy against ISIS, which he's scheduled to announce in his speech.


Obama's approach will include U.S. military action, as well as support for forces combating ISIS on the ground in both Iraq and Syria, according to a White House official. The president will also discuss U.S. efforts to build “a coalition of allies and partners in the region and in the broader international community to support our efforts.”

The decision to have the president discuss the role lawmakers can play comes as press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that “the focal point of the speech will not be our communications with Congress.” 

“We can communicate directly with Congress about that,” Earnest said. “The focal point of the President’s remarks tomorrow will be the broader strategy that he wants to put in place, using all elements of American power, to build an international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy [ISIS].”

The president has come under increased pressure from Capitol Hill to clarify his approach toward dealing with the terror network, and prominent lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have suggested Congress should formally endorse an expanded mission in some way.

Members of both chambers have introduced legislation that would explicitly authorize the president to undertake airstrikes, while others have suggested that increasing the defense budget — or funding the president’s request for a counterterrorism fund — could serve as a tacit endorsement of Obama’s plan to confront ISIS.

But congressional leadership has, so far, opted against calling for such a vote. Many in Congress appear wary of what could be a politically difficult vote just weeks before the midterm elections. Moreover, memories of the failed attempt to secure congressional approval for airstrikes against the central government in Syria remain fresh in the mind of lawmakers.

The president is most likely to simply detail administration efforts to consult with and brief lawmakers. According to the White House, dozens of members of Congress have received classified briefings from administration officials — including the vice president, Cabinet and national security staff — in recent weeks. The administration also has offered briefings to House and Senate staff, and will hold classified sessions for the entirety of Congress on Thursday.

“That is an indication and just gives you a little snapshot of this administration’s commitment to robust consultation with Congress. The President believes that’s important because he understands that Congress has and should have a role as these important decisions are being made. And the President would certainly welcome support from members of Congress, however they choose to show it,” Earnest said Tuesday.