WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama has the authority to launch airstrikes against Syria. But he has to notify lawmakers in Congress — a process that has begun, according to both sides.
“The administration is actively consulting with members of Congress, and we will continue to have these conversations in the days ahead,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday in a strongly-worded statement on Syria.
The Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, has had “preliminary communication with the White House about the situation in Syria and any potential U.S. response,” his spokesman said.
“The speaker made clear that before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability,” said the spokesman, Brendan Buck.
In 1973, after the Vietnam War and despite the opposition of Richard Nixon in the White House, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to compel U.S. presidents to seek congressional approval in order to deploy soldiers.
A U.S. president must, in theory at least, obtain an authorization voted on by Congress if introducing troops into “hostilities” or “situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances” to keep the operation going beyond 60 days.
In practice, however, all presidents since Nixon have deemed this unconstitutional and regularly neglected to ask for such permission, instead simply notifying Congress.
Obama, leaning on a United Nations Security Council resolution, launched aerial strikes against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s troops in March 2011. But according to the administration, the operation did not fall within the “hostilities” outlined in the 1973 law.
In the wake of the strikes, Congress was split between backers of a law mandating the president to stop the intervention and those who wanted to authorize it formally.
In March 1999, lawmakers also didn’t have a say on the lengthy bombing campaign in Kosovo, launched by then-President Bill Clinton.
Political debate on the topic remains animated and some lawmakers, including many with ties to the ultraconservative tea party, unsuccessfully tried in July to preventively block an attack on Syria without the approval of Congress.
For now, at least, the calendar is on Obama’s side since Congress is on summer recess until Sept. 9.