But even though Obama is now seeking Congress’ support, Kerry insisted that the president is not bound by law to stand down should his plan be rejected.
Hadn’t the president in essence ceded that leeway by coming to Congress? I asked the secretary of state.
The answer, he said, was no.
“Constitutionally, every president, Republican and Democrat alike, has always reserved to the presidency, to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the right to make a decision with respect to American security,” Kerry said during an interview in his State Department reception room on Thursday.
“Bill Clinton went to Kosovo over the objections of many people and saved lives and managed to make peace because he did something that was critical at the time. Many presidents have done that. Reagan did it. Bush did it. A lot of presidents have made a decision that they have to protect the nation.
“Now. I can’t tell you what judgment the president will make if, in three weeks, Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons again. But the president reserves the right in the presidency to respond as appropriate to protect the security of our nation.”
To be fair, Kerry never said the president would attack Syria without Congress. And he may have gone rogue here. Earlier today, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken told NPR that the president will not attack Syria without congressional approval. Obama himself then found a middle ground of sorts by refusing to say whether he’d go without the legislature. So at best this is a case of mixed messages, and at worst it’s a brutal snub to both Congress and public opinion. Either way, it’s unlikely to make the House any warmer to the president’s case. Latest whip counts: a majority of members are either in opposition or leaning towards opposition to striking Syria.
This will have to be one hell of a speech on Tuesday.