Obama Asks Congress To Approve Military Strike on Syria

Decision likely puts off an authorization vote until the week of September 9

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Mike Theiler / REUTERS

President Barack Obama makes remarks on the situation in Syria, at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington August 31, 2013.

President Barack Obama announced Saturday that he is asking Congress to approve a military strike on Syria following a chemical weapons attack which killed more than 1,400 last week.

Amid mounting calls from lawmakers for a vote, Obama  made the case for American intervention, saying allowing the use of chemical weapons to go unpunished will endanger national security.

“This attack is an assault on human dignity,” Obama said. “It also presents a serious danger to our national security…It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or proliferation to terrorist groups. In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.”

“I have decided the United States should take action against Syrian military targets,” Obama said.

But Obama said he will wait to give the order until Congress formally approves a strike, saying it is the Pentagon’s assessment that there is no downside to waiting for Congress, which is scheduled to return from its summer recess on September 9. Obama spoke by phone with the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate Saturday morning, and relayed that they agreed to provide for debate and a vote on a measure authorizing the use of force.

“I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage. Today I’m asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation,” Obama said.

Members of the House Republican leadership indicated in a joint statement that they would not be returning early from recess to consider a resolution authorizing military action. “Under the Constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress,” they said in a statement. “We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised. In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9th. This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”

The president said he is convinced by U.S. intelligence reports that the Assad government is responsible for the attack and is comfortable moving forward with an attack without the completion of a United Nations investigation or the approval of the U.N. Security Council. Asking for congressional approval affirms his 2007 campaign promise after violating it in Libya.

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat,” Obama told the Boston Globe in 2007.

Last year, Obama called the widespread use of chemical weapons by the Assad government a “red line” that would be a “game changer.” Obama has struggled to follow through on that threat as the Syrian civil war rages on and a war-weary American public expresses reservations about another conflict.

“We cannot raise our children in a world where we do follow through on the things we say,” Obama said in a plea to the American people. “We cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.”