Plan B on Syria: Four options for Obama if Congress won't act
If President Obama fails to get Congress to go along with airstrikes against Syria over alleged use of chemical weapons, he can still act – though he would pay a price.
President Obama’s prospects for congressional approval of limited US airstrikes in Syria look bad, especially in the House.Skip to next paragraph
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But administration officials insist most members remain undecided. And Mr. Obama and his top aides are working mightily to sway them – and public opinion – with interviews, speeches, and personal arm-twisting. Obama is doing six network-TV interviews Monday and a televised address to the nation Tuesday evening. He also travels to Capitol Hill Tuesday to meet with Senate Democrats. On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden hosted six senators at his residence – and Obama joined in.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed Syria at a White House event Monday on wildlife preservation. National Security Adviser Susan Rice spoke on Syria at the New America Foundation in Washington Monday afternoon. Secretary of State John Kerry is still working the international community, and after returning to Washington on Monday, will hold closed-door briefings for members of Congress.
But all of this may not be enough, even as the Obama administration insists it has plenty of evidence that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used nerve gas against his own people last month – and has distributed videos it says provide evidence.
A failure to get both houses of Congress on board with airstrikes would be a huge blow to the president. But he would still have options in Syria. Here are some:
Launch airstrikes with just Senate approval
Of Congress’s two chambers, Obama’s prospects for support are higher in the Democratic-controlled Senate than in the Republican-controlled House, even though plenty of Senate Democrats have expressed reservations or outright opposition. And liberal activist groups are turning up the heat, as American opposition to airstrikes surges – 15 points in the past week, from 48 percent to 63 percent, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, released Monday.
But in facing voters only every six years, senators have more freedom than House members in their votes – especially those not up for reelection in 2014. Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution granting Obama limited authority to launch airstrikes by a vote of 10 to 7.
Striking at Syria with just Senate approval may not pass the straight-face test of “congressional approval” for military action, but it would provide Obama with some cover.
Launch airstrikes without the support of either chamber
Administration officials have insisted that this won’t happen. But Obama has consistently left open that possibility since Aug. 31, when he made the surprise announcement that he would ask Congress for a vote. He said that if Congress were consulted, US actions would be “more effective,” but he also maintained that he had “the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization.”