WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and congressional leaders believe he does not need authorization from Congress for some steps he might take to quell the al-Qaida-inspired insurgency sweeping through Iraq, the Senate’s top Republican and Capitol Hill aides said after the president briefed senior lawmakers Wednesday.
Still, the prospect of the president sidestepping Congress raises the potential for clashes between the White House and rank-and-file lawmakers, particularly if Obama should launch strikes with manned aircrafts or take other direct U.S. military action in Iraq. Administration officials have said airstrikes have become less a focus of recent deliberations but have also said the president could order such a step if intelligence agencies can identify clear targets on the ground.
Obama huddled in the Oval Office for over an hour to discuss options for responding the crumbling security situation in Iraq with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Speaking to reporters as he returned to the Capitol, McConnell said the president “indicated he didn’t feel he had any need for authority from us for steps that he might take.”
Pelosi concurred with the president, saying in a statement after the meeting that Obama does not need “any further legislative authority to pursue the particular options for increased security assistance discussed today.” She did not specify what options were discussed.
An administration official said it was the leaders who suggested Obama already had existing authorities to take additional action in Iraq without further congressional authorization. The official downplayed the notion that Obama agreed with that assessment, saying only that the president said he would continue to consult with lawmakers.
The White House has dodged questions about whether Obama might seek congressional approval if he decides to take military action. Last summer, Obama sought approval for possible strikes against Syria, but he scrapped the effort when it became clear that lawmakers would not grant him the authority.