Will President Barack Obama seek congressional authorization if he expands the fight against the Islamic State into Syria? White House press secretary Josh Earnest fielded several variations of that question Monday without giving a direct answer.
“As a general matter, what I can say is that the president is interested in their buy-in, is interested in a congressional debate and is interested in consulting closely with leaders in Congress so that they feel bought into this process,” Earnest said.
Obama is meeting with House and Senate leaders from both parties Tuesday at the White House and will be delivering a national address on Wednesday about the strategy for combatting the threat posed to Americans by the Islamic State, a Sunni militant group that has beheaded two American journalists and carried out terrorist attacks in its push through Iraq and Syria.
When ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl asked, “Does the president intend to ask Congress for authorization to expand the campaign against ISIL? A yes or no question,” Earnest didn't provide a yes or no answer.
“If the president decides to expand the operation — and these are the kinds of questions that are best answered after the president has made some fundamental decisions about what he wants to do, if there is some kind of expansion of the operation, what the consequence is, a whole range of things, our diplomatic relationships, what kind of assistance we would seek from our partners, what kind of assistance we would seek from other governments and what role does Congress have?” Earnest said.
“So it's hard – unless you are talking about a very specific order from the president – it's hard to talk in very specific terms in what we want Congress to do,” Earnest continued. “As a general matter, what I can say is that the president is interested in their buy-in, is interested in a congressional debate and is interested in consulting closely with leaders in Congress so that they feel bought into this process.”
Pressed on the matter later in the briefing, Earnest said, “if Congress wants to participate in this process, we certainly would welcome their participation in a constructive way.”
But a reporter suggested there doesn't seem to be an opposite of "buy-in" if Congress opposes an expansion of the campaign against the Islamic State. At that point, Earnest seemed to say it would be up to Congress to stop the president.
“If members of Congress want to put forth a piece of legislation saying the president should not act or should not order military force to protect American citizen in Iraq and Syria, they're welcome to vote on that,” Earnest said. “Again, the president does not have a vote and the president does not determine if that on to the floor of the House of Representatives.”