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Congress Gets Its Say On Syria


This morning, Secretary of State John Kerry said he has evidence that the Syrian regime used sarin gas. The evidence was found in blood and hair samples gathered by first responders, and is separate from that collected by U.N. inspectors. With us now to talk about the president's announcement yesterday is NPR's Congressional reporter, Ailsa Chang. Good morning, Ailsa.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Good morning.

GOODWYN: OK. So, the president got the message. How loud have the cheers been from members of Congress?

CHANG: Well, it depends who you talk to. Top Republican leaders in the House and Senate came out really supportive yesterday. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell commended the decision, 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 chimed in, saying that, quote, "Under the Constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress." And Boehner added that he expects the House to consider a measure the week of September 9th, which, of course, is when Congress was scheduled to come back from summer recess all along.

GOODWYN: But it's not just Republicans who wanted the president to seek congressional approval, right?

CHANG: President Obama has been getting pressure from both sides of the aisle about seeking more congressional involvement. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has been urging more consultations with Congress. More than 60 House Democrats signed on to a letter demanding congressional authorization before military intervention. One of them was Charles Rangel from New York. Here he was on CNN yesterday.


REPRESENTATIVE CHARLES RANGEL: At least I know that the president of the United States is coming to the American people before he executes something that obviously he said he's already decided. It's the constitutional thing to do.

CHANG: But on the flip side, we have some Republicans saying Obama should have proceeded without congressional approval. Congressman Peter King of New York said in a statement yesterday that President Obama is, quote, "undermining the authority of future presidents" to make military decisions, and that he's, quote, "abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief."

GOODWYN: So, Ailsa, what about the timing of all of this? Are there some members who think Congress shouldn't be waiting until September 9th?

CHANG: Absolutely. There has been a longstanding willingness to reconvene earlier. Democrat Eliot Engel of New York, who's the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says the speaker should recall the House back from summer recess to debate the issue now. And members of the Senate are also echoing this same sentiment. Like Republican Saxby Chambliss, who's the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee. He said in a statement yesterday that the President should have demanded that Congress return immediately and debate this issue.

GOODWYN: OK. Regardless of when Congress comes back, do you think the president has the votes?

CHANG: We have some clues as to how lawmakers are feeling. Some have gone on record saying, yes, absolutely, limited strikes are necessary to address the use of chemical weapons. Then there are lawmakers who say even if we're only concerned with removing chemical weapons, would just a few days of airstrikes really achieve that? And then there are people, like Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who want to see the U.S. actually change the balance of power in this civil war. But the president has said he's not interested in regime change with these military operations. And finally, there those senators, like Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, who's already made it clear he sees absolutely no way airstrikes could serve the national interest.

GOODWYN: NPR's Ailsa Chang. Ailsa, many thanks.

CHANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.