Why Not Go To Congress?

by Patrick Appel

Amy Davidson asks:

What is the disadvantage of going to Congress? That they are loud and annoying and someone will try to introduce a resolution tying action in Syria to Obamacare? If the Administration can’t stand up to Ted Cruz, it can hardly hope to frighten Bashar al-Assad. And if going to Congress now feels time-consuming, how does it compare to the hours, days, weeks, and sanity expended on the Benghazi hearings? Those might have happened anyway, but they got a fair share of their formless force from the Administration’s initial decision to not really bother with Congress and the War Powers Act when it came to Libya. If you haven’t been asked in the first place, there is no cost to turning a tragedy into a piece of political theatre.

Alex Altman expects Syrian intervention to become a political bludgeon:

The only sure thing is Obama’s opponents will use Syria against him, no matter how it turns out.

House Speaker John Boehner‘s new letter to the president, released late Wednesday afternoon, is a sign of how they may try. Boehner’s letter requests “a clear explanation of our policy” and interests that require intervention, as well as “a clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action — which is a means, not a policy — will secure U.S. objectives.” It notes points of agreements. It includes a list of 14 important questions. But it’s mostly notable for what it doesn’t include: a request for Obama to seek congressional approval.

Instead Boehner wants “substantive consultation,” a phrase that is vague enough to verge on meaningless. The subtext is clear. Republicans will be happy to hammer the president for acting unilaterally, which Obama himself once disavowed. But many want no part of a vote. Backbenchers could wind up on the wrong side of history. And Boehner would have to wrangle a majority out of a restive party that, on this issue, is perhaps even more divided than usual.

Ramesh Ponnuru doubts that Congress would vote for war:

This is not a military action that we are undertaking to defend ourselves from attack or to protect a core interest. The congressional power to declare war, if it is not to be a dead letter, has to apply here. And it seems to me exceedingly unlikely that Congress would vote to commit us in Syria, because the public manifestly opposes it. This is a war with no clear objective, thus no strategy to attain it, no legal basis, and no public support.

Ed Morrissey, on the other hand, suspects that Congress would authorize force:

Why not go to Congress? There is at least as large a bipartisan group urging action, probably more than enough in both chambers to get easy passage of a limited pass.  The authorization would give Obama more political cover on what is undeniably an unpopular action, and spread the blame to both parties.  Chuck Todd suggested yesterday that the White House is afraid that “isolationists” will block the authorization, and that the delay in getting approval would be too great … Delay? Well, it’s been months since the first time Syria used chemical weapons, which makes a rush to action here moot. Furthermore, the UN wants more time to determine what exactly happened anyway.

Cassidy wonders whether the delay in Britain will spur congressional debate:

After yesterday’s dramatic developments in London, which culminated in Prime Minister David Cameron delaying a parliamentary vote to authorize British participation in an American-led attack, President Obama faces the choice of putting off the bombing or going ahead without the support of America’s closest European ally. Should he choose to hold off for a few days, which seems likely, it will give Congress time to consider the matter, and to schedule a vote approving military action. Until now, the White House has resisted such a vote, and the Republican leadership has stopped short of demanding one. But now that Britain has allowed the people’s representatives to have a say, and also given the U.N. inspectors in Syria some time to complete their investigation of last week’s awful gas attack, the political dynamic in Washington may change.

Drum hopes so:

There are legitimate issues surrounding the powers of the president and the extent to which Congress can micromanage military attacks. But this is something that Congress should actually spend some time debating, instead of just folding up and letting the president do whatever he wants with nothing more than a bit of muttering about separation of powers. The president may be commander-in-chief, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. military is his personal plaything. It’s past time to make that clear.

Earlier Dish on congressional approval and Syria here.