WH: 'We're Consulting With Congress' on Syria, But Won't Name Names

By Susan Jones | August 27, 2013 | 6:23 AM EDT


Sept. 20, 2012 photo shows the White House in Washington(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CNSNews.com) - Would President Obama attack Syria without congressional authorization?

A White House spokesman told reporters on Monday that President Obama is evaluating potential options for dealing with Syria: "But he has not made that decision, and when he does, I'm sure you will hear from him.

"When it comes to Congress, we're consulting with Congress and will continue to do that," White House spokesman Jay Carney continued.

But asked to "detail" the administration's consultations with Congress so far, Carney was vague:

"Well, members of Congress have been consulted, and those consultations will continue. We don't tend to read out every individual phone call, but the White House and obviously the State Department and others have been consulting members --

"Can you give us some examples?" the reporter pressed.

"Again, I don't want to read out a specific member," Carney said.

"But I can tell you that members of Congress have been consulted and will be consulted as we continue to make -- I think members of Congress with a particular interest in this matter have been consulted and will continue to be consulted, and that process is underway and will continue in coming days."

Asked if the White House needs congressional authorization to take action in Syria, Carney said he didn't want to "speculate" about what Congress might do, at a time when the White House hasn't even reached a decision.

"While we are consulting with Congress, the issues that you raise presuppose a decision that hasn't been made," Carney said.

Another reporter asked Carney if Obama is "involved personally" in some of the consultations with lawmakers.

"I don't have specific conversations to read out to you," Carney said. "I can say that the White House and the State Department and others have been engaged, other agencies have been engaged in consultations with Congress, and that process will continue. It is certainly the case that the president has discussed Syria and Assad with members of Congress in the past, and I'm sure he will do so in the future, including on this specific matter. But I'm not going to itemize the calls or consultations,except to say that they have been taking place and will continue to take place."

Later in the briefing, another reporter returned to the question of consulting with Congress.

"You said members of Congress with a particular interest in this matter have been consulted. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee -- a spokesman for him told CNN there has been no consultation," the reporter told Carney.

Carney responded, "I didn't say every -- I simpy said -- and I'm not going to go down the path of -- you know, there are quite a number of members of Congress, and even quite a number of members who have a specific interest in this matter, and I can assure you that we will consult with Congress. We have consulted with members and will continue to do that, both here from the White House and from State and other agencies as these days progress."

Carney repeated that "I'm  not going to itemize calls or individuals."

"Why not?" the reporter asked.

"Again, I  think we are consulting with members of Congress -- well, because then we could spend -- you know, there are 535 -- we could spend a lot of time with each individual --"

"You could clear this up right now and say, you know what? We've talked to these 15 senators. We talked to about 10 House members," the reporter interjected.

"And what I can tell you, Chuck, is that we've talked to a number of members of Congress -- the White House has, and the State Department has, and others at other agencies have, and that process will continue. I don't have specific conversations to read out to you, but I can assure you that process is under way and has been under way and will continue moving forward."

Syrian regime 'culpable'

Carney told reporters the White House believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is behind the chemical attack that killed hundreds of his own people:

"There is very little doubt that the (Syrian) regime is culpable," Carney told reporters. "We are continuing assessments and will provide conclusions when we have them for you."

Echoing Secretary of State John Kerry, who called the chemical attack in Syria "morally obscene," Carney said it was also "a violation of a long-held international norm that bans the use of chemical weapons on a widespread scale."

A reporter asked Carney if President Obama, in considering his response to the WMD attack, would consider polls showing that Americans are reluctant to get involved in another war.

"The president makes decisions about military action or potential military action with the national security interests of the United States in mind. There is no weightier decision for the president, and he has made that clear on numerous occasions. And he makes decisions of that nature based on what he views as the long-term interests of the United States."

Carney said the White House still takes the rebels' side in the civil war:

"[W]e are considering responses to this transgression, to this violation of an international norm. We are continuing our support for the opposition in its fight against Assad, but we also have made clear for a long time now that there is not a military solution to that conflict; there has to be a political solution, that ultimately Assad has to step aside to allow for a better future for the Syrian people."