President Barack Obama was not clear about his course of action in Syria if Congress rejects a military strike in response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people.
President Barack Obama gestures during his news conference at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (AP)
Obama was asked twice at a press conference in St. Petersburg, Russia at the end of the Group of 20 economic summit about what he would do if Congress rejects a resolution for military action.
"I put this before Congress for a reason. I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action," Obama said. "I’m not going to engage in parlor games now about whether or not it’s going to pass."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday narrowly passed a resolution to authorize force in Syria, but the resolution is expected to be a tough sell in the House.
Obama announced he will make his case to the American people for military action in Syria in a White House address on Tuesday.
After a Syrian civil war where more than 100,000 people were killed, the use of chemical weapons that killed 1,429 people -- 426 of them children, according to U.S. intelligence -- heightened interest in the actions of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
Early in the news conference, a reporter asked Obama if he would go ahead with the strike if Congress doesn't pass a resolution.
"In terms of the votes and the process in Congress, I knew this was going to be a heavy lift. I said that on Saturday when I said we’re going to take it to Congress. You know, our polling operations are pretty good," Obama said.
"I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current popular opinion is and for the American people who have been through over a decade of war now with enormous sacrifice and blood and treasure, any hint of further military entanglements in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion, and that suspicion will probably be even stronger in my party than in the Republican party since a lot of the people who supported me remember that I opposed the war in Iraq," he continued. "What’s also true, is that experience with the war in Iraq colors how people view this situation, not just back home in America, but also here in Europe and around the world. That’s the prism through which a lot of people are analyzing the situation. So, I understand the skepticism. I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through, systematically, making the case to every senator and every member of Congress. And that’s what we’re doing."
He went on to say, "I did not put this before Congress, you know, just as a political ploy or as symbolism. I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States."
Not satisfied with the answer, another reporter, Jonathan Karl of ABC News, pressed the question again, "If Congress fails to authorize this, will you go forward with an attack on Syria?"
Obama first responded that the question was asked earlier, to which Karl said, "It’s a pretty basic question."
"What I have said, and I will repeat, is that I put this before Congress for a reason. I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action," Obama said. "I’m not going to engage in parlor games now about whether or not it’s going to pass, when I’m talking substantively to Congress about why this is important and talking to American people about why this is important."
The president said he would work to make his case to Congress.
"It’s conceivable that at the end of the day, I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do and then each member of Congress is gonna have to decide, if I think it’s the right thing to do for America’s national security and the world’s national security, then how do I vote?" Obama said. "And you know what? That’s -- that’s what you’re supposed to do as a member of Congress. Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you’ve also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America."
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