On Syria, How Might Congress Vote?

Lawmakers from both parties in the House and Senate are praising President Obama for seeking their authorization for any military action in Syria. Still, Congress isn't even scheduled to return to Washington until Sept. 9. And how might they vote? It's "kind of a gamble" says NPR congressional reporter Ailsa Chang.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

With us now to talk about congressional reaction to the president's announcement this afternoon is NPR's congressional reporter Ailsa Chang. Thanks for being with us.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: You're welcome. Good to be here.

LYDEN: So it seems the president has been listening to the rancor this week, Ailsa, from members of both parties. What's been the reaction from congressional leaders you've had a chance to speak to since the announcement?

CHANG: Well, almost immediately, lawmakers from both parties in both the House and Senate have chimed in, praising the president for making a really sound decision. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blasted out a statement saying that the president's role as commander in chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner also responded immediately with a statement saying: Under the Constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress. We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised. And then he added: We expect the House to consider the measure the week of September 9th.

LYDEN: All right. Well, we're off to the week of September 9th, a Monday. Boehner is saying he doesn't expect to reconvene the House any earlier than that when they're scheduled to come back after their summer recess. Could Congress possibly come back earlier though, Ailsa?

CHANG: Well, it's theoretically possible the Senate could come back earlier. It's the Democratically-controlled chamber, and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid determines their schedule. And if the Senate were to come back earlier, it might put pressure on the House to reconsider that one week delay. Sure, so Boehner could change his mind. And after all, it's been the House as a body that's actually been more loudly clamoring to have their say in the situation with Syria.

LYDEN: Well, as you heard the president himself said, this is a debate we need to have. So when Congress comes back and votes, do you think the president has the votes to go forward with the strikes from what you've seen?

CHANG: Well, that's really, really hard to say at this point. This is kind of a gamble that the president is taking. Most of the lawmakers who've been expressing any concerns about the attacks on Syria up until now have framed their reasoning as you need to involve Congress in this decision. You need to give us more information. You need to make the case to us why an attack is critical to our national security interests.

So it's hard to say what they would decide once they have that additional information. Congress is getting briefed right now. In fact, all Democratic and Republican senators are getting briefed by telephone today by White House officials. That's an unclassified briefing. And then tomorrow, a classified briefing is going to be given to any lawmakers who can be physically present in the Capitol.

LYDEN: Ailsa, refresh us on the office of the presidency, and it is a matchless one. Is the president required to seek congressional approval? Is the president implicitly acknowledging this?

CHANG: As a constitutional matter, there is no clear-cut answer as to whether the president must seek congressional approval before launching limited, discrete airstrikes on Syria. Under the Constitution, yes, Congress has the power to declare war, but the president would say he's not declaring war here. This is more about executing foreign policy.

LYDEN: NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang. Thank you very much, Ailsa.

CHANG: You're welcome.

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