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 launches strikes with manned aircrafts or takes 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 he might take.”
Pelosi concurred with the president, saying in a statement after the meeting 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 suggesting Obama agreed with the assessment, saying only that the president said he would continue to consult with lawmakers.
The White House has publicly dodged questions about whether Obama might seek congressional approval if he decides to take military action. Last summer, Obama did seek approval for possible strikes against Syria, but he scrapped the effort when it became clear lawmakers would not grant him the authority.
However, administration officials have suggested the president may be able to act on his own in this case because Iraq’s government has requested U.S. military assistance.
“I think it certainly is a distinction and difference worth noting,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday of the comparisons to the Syrian situation.
In addition, an authorization for the use of military force in Iraq, passed by Congress in 2002, is still on the books and could potentially be used as a rationale for the White House acting without additional approval. Before the outburst of violence in Iraq, Obama had called for authorization to be repealed.
Some lawmakers were outraged when Obama launched military action in Libya in 2011 with minimal consultation with Congress and no formal authorization from Capitol Hill. More recently, some in Congress have complained the White House did not consult on final plans for releasing five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for freeing detained American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
In a diplomatic tour de force, Vice President Joe Biden spoke Wednesday with Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, its Sunni parliamentary speaker and the president of Iraq’s self-ruled northern Kurdish region. Biden, who was traveling in Latin America, praised all three leaders for the participation of their respective communities in a televised show of unity against the group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the White House said.
White House officials offered no timeline Wednesday for how soon Obama might decide on how to respond to the fast-moving militants from ISIL, which has seized Mosul, Tikrit and other towns in Iraq as the country’s military melted away.
Obama’s decision-making on airstrikes has been complicated by intelligence gaps resulting from the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011, which left the country largely off-limits to American operatives. Intelligence agencies are now trying to close gaps and identify possible targets such as insurgent encampments, training camps and weapons, according to U.S. officials.
Obama is certain to face resistance from congressional Democrats if he launches any major military response to the crisis in Iraq. Two House Democrats — John Garamendi of California and Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii — said Wednesday they would offer an amendment to the defense spending bill which would require congressional approval before any sustained military action in Iraq.
The House is debating the defense bill and is scheduled to finish it this week.