A top House Democrat said Sunday that President Obama may still legally conduct military strikes in Syria even if Congress denies him the authority, but that the White House will have “morally” lost the ability to do so.
“I think while he has the constitutional authority, I think morally he will have lost the authority to move forward,” Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program.
A number of newspapers and websites have conducted counts of lawmakers’ stated positions and have found opposition to strikes far outweighs support at this point. But Mr. Becerra discounted those tallies, saying that until the House has a specific piece of legislation in front of it, the count can change.
“If you’re telling me there are a certain number of votes for the specific authorization the House will vote on, I’ll tell you, you don’t have that, I don’t have that. It’s not yet before us,” the congressman said. “And so long as we in the House work hard to make sure that we craft an authorization that is very limited and defined and targeted, I believe that is something that could get the support of a majority of the House of Representatives.”
Mr. Obama sent Congress a draft resolution last weekend asking for permission to strike at the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons facilities, but key members of both the House and Senate have rejected it as too broad.
Now, both sides are trying to write their own bills.
In the Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution on a 10-7 vote last week, and it will be the subject of debate in the full Senate this week.
Prospects in the House are cloudier, with what appears to be a majority of Republicans, who control the chamber, leaning against granting any authorization for force. That could make it more difficult to get a resolution done.
And even if the House does pass one, it likely will be more restrictive than the version the Senate is about to debate, raising the question of whether any final agreement can eventually pass.