U.S. congressional leaders are welcoming the surprise announcement by President Barack Obama that he will seek a vote from both chambers of Congress to authorize any military strikes against the Syrian government for alleged chemical weapons attacks.
More than 140 U.S. lawmakers had signed a letter to President Obama asking him to seek congressional approval before taking any military action on Syria. But Congress is out for its summer recess until September 9, lawmakers are scattered throughout the country, and it appeared that the president was contemplating imminent action.
But on Saturday, the president caught many by surprise by announcing he would seek a vote in Congress when lawmakers return. Obama said he did not need congressional authorization, but that he would like to have it.
"Yet while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective," he said. "We should have this debate because the issues are too big for business as usual. And this morning, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell agreed that this is the right thing to do for our democracy."
In a written statement, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives welcomed the president's decision, saying that under the Constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress. House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team said they expect the chamber to consider a measure the week of September 9, giving the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people. A number of senators also welcomed the decision.
Veteran political analyst Larry Sabato said he believes President Obama had a sudden and very wise change of heart.
"President Obama was on track essentially to launch a unilateral attack on Syria. I don't even know that we would have had any allies," he said. "After the decision by the House of Commons in Britain [to reject military action against Syria], I think the president woke up to the realities."
Sabato and other experts say the president will have a lot of work to do to make a strong case to try to persuade Congress to vote for military action.
"I don't think he has a majority right now in either house; certainly he doesn't in the House of Representatives," he said. "But even the Democratically controlled Senate has a lot of questions about this."
The White House already is starting to make its case, saying that top administration officials will brief House members on Capitol Hill Sunday afternoon.