The Obama administration begins taking its case for a strike against Syria to the American people Sunday morning, with Secretary of State John Kerry making rounds on morning television news shows.
It comes as Obama apparently is leaving the door open to moving ahead with a military strike on Syria even if Congress votes against it, adding to the confusion over the president’s evolving position.
The president, in a surprise decision Saturday, announced he would seek a vote in Congress on launching a military attack against the Assad regime.
One senior State Department official, though, told Fox News that the president’s goal to take military action will indeed be carried out, regardless of whether Congress votes to approve the use of force.
Other senior administration officials said Obama is merely leaving the door open to that possibility. They say he would prefer that Congress approve a military attack on the Assad regime, in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons, and will wait to see what Congress does before making any final decisions on authorizing military force.
Yet the possibility that Obama would move ahead without the support of Congress is sure to stir confusion among lawmakers, who had – for the most part – applauded his decision to seek their input first, though others claimed he was “abdicating his responsibility” by punting to Congress. It would raise questions about why he decided to seek congressional input at all, after having moved military assets into position immediately, and then waited days and possibly weeks for a debate in Washington.
The senior State Department official told Fox News that every major player on the National Security Council – including the commander-in-chief – was in accord Friday night on the need for military action, and that the president’s decision to seek a congressional debate and vote was a surprise to most if not all of them.
However, the aide insisted the request for Congress to vote did not supplant the president’s earlier decision to use force in Syria, only delayed its implementation.
“That’s going to happen, anyway,” the source told Fox News, adding that that was why the president, in his Rose Garden remarks, was careful to establish that he believes he has the authority to launch such strikes even without congressional authorization.
Other senior administration officials, outside of the Department of State, would not confirm as much, telling reporters only that the door had been left open for the president to proceed without congressional authorization.
This was confided by way of seeking to refute suggestions that Secretary of State John Kerry “lost” to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey in the interagency process. “Absolutely untrue,” the Kerry aide said, adding that everything Kerry said in his dramatic remarks on Friday was after “fully consulting with the White House.”
The State Department official emphasized that all of the president’s national security advisers were in agreement as of Friday night on the need to proceed with strikes – and that the president ultimately will.
At the least, Obama’s remarks do appear to leave him wiggle room. In the Rose Garden, Obama stressed that he believes he does “have the authority” to carry out an attack without the support of Congress. He said, though, that “the country will be stronger” if Congress weighs in.
A White House statement released on Saturday, following a phone call between Obama and French President Francois Hollande, gave another indication as to the president’s intentions. The statement said the two leaders agree “that the international community must deliver a resolute message to the Assad regime” and that “those who violate this international norm will be held accountable by the world.”
Fox News’ James Rosen and Ed Henry contributed to this report.