As Rachel explained in detail last night, the prospect of U.S. military intervention in Syria appears increasingly likely, a development that has not escaped Congress’ attention. House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office published a statement yesterday that struck an interesting note.
“The president is commander-in-chief. With that power comes obligations. One, of course, is to consult with Congress on the options he sees as a viable response. This consultation has not yet taken place, but it is an essential part of the process. And meaningful consultation should happen before any military action is taken.”
For those keeping score, there are four sentences in that paragraph, and three of them feature some variation on the word “consult.”
And the reason this struck me as interesting is that the House Speaker is setting the checks-and-balances bar awfully low – Boehner doesn’t expect Congress to have any say in whether the United States takes military action in Syria, and he apparently doesn’t even intend to have any kind of vote on a congressional resolution on the use of force.
Rather, the Speaker just wants to be kept in the loop. Boehner apparently will be satisfied if the White House picks up the phone and keeps congressional leaders apprised of what the president chooses to do.
In other words, “consult” is weak, in a vague sort of way. If the president “consults” with congressional leaders and lawmakers urge Obama not to intervene in Syria at all, it’s apparently within the president’s power to say, “That’s nice, but Congress isn’t especially relevant in this.” By Boehner’s reasoning, this is fine – it checks the “consultation” box – and the president can go ahead and use force as he deems appropriate.
Boehner’s statement yesterday added, “[I]f he chooses to act, the president must explain his decision.” That’s it? That’s what the Speaker expects about the use of military force abroad? Boehner is surprisingly easy to please – once a presidential conversation and explanation are out of the way, Obama can launch military strikes without Congress doing much of anything, this according to the Speaker of the House.
I seem to recall reading a book not too long ago suggesting a more responsible course.
That said, if Boehner were willing to bring the matter to the floor for a vote, I wonder what the outcome might be.
Despite mounting evidence that President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his people, many members of Congress still don’t see a role for the United States military in Syria.
A raft of Republican and Democratic lawmakers – including those directly involved in intelligence oversight – think the U.S. would be wise to take a pass on military intervention in the war-torn country.
Their line of thinking goes like this: Sending in U.S. troops now is too late, too dangerous, too pricey and not guaranteed to be successful. And a bombing campaign won’t do enough. There’s also the fear that the U.S. does not know who would lead Syria if Assad falls.
This is not to say congressional opinion is one-sided – many lawmakers support intervention, others are furious that military strikes haven’t already happened – but if Congress were to consider authorizing the use of force, it’s not entirely clear the administration would get it.
We probably won’t find out, though, because Boehner only expects a consultation.