The second-ranking House Democrat said President Barack Obama has the authority to use military force against Syria without returning to the U.S. Congress for approval should diplomacy fail to compel the Syrian government to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal.
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said neither he nor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, “believe the president is required to come to Congress in this instance, and could act on his own.”
Hoyer, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” that airs this weekend, also said House Republican disarray on strategy in battling Obama over the federal budget and raising the nation’s borrowing limit makes a government shutdown at month’s end more likely.
On Syria, Hoyer said only a brief window exists for Russia to prove that its bid to require Syria to give up its chemical arms stockpile to avert a U.S. military strike is “real” -- “certainly not longer than weeks.”
If the effort fails, Hoyer added, Obama’s hand would be strengthened in taking military action if Congress explicitly empowered him to do so.
“If we passed a resolution, he’d have a stronger hand,” Hoyer said. “But having said that, neither the Russians nor the Syrians ought to conclude that the president is without authority to act.”
The attempt at a diplomatic solution may also help Obama influence lawmakers to support a military strike, Hoyer said.
“People would say, ‘Well, he went the extra mile, he reached out, he took the diplomatic course that people had been urging him to take -- and it didn’t work,’” Hoyer said. “And therefore under those circumstances, the only option available to us to preclude the further use of chemical weapons and to try to deter and degrade Syria’s ability to use them is to act.’”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing military force against Syria, and the Senate was prepared to vote on the measurer this week. The resolution appeared to face growing House opposition. Then, when the prospect of a negotiated settlement arose, Obama said in a national televised address on Sept. 10 that he was asking Congress to delay voting.
On fiscal issues, Hoyer said Democrats will never agree to the Republican bid to delay funding for the 2010 health-care law in exchange for funding the government, calling it a “gambit” the opposing party could use to continuously keep the measure from being carried out.
“We’re not going to be bludgeoned and blackmailed into adopting something with respect to the health-care bill that the voters rejected” in giving Obama a second term last November, he said.
Calling the Republicans “fixated” on repealing the law, Hoyer said, “As long as ‘shut down the government’ is their bludgeon, is their threat, is their hostage, that’s not a negotiable issue.”
While he and some influential Republicans oppose the automatic across-the-board spending cuts imposed earlier this year, Hoyer conceded they are likely to remain in effect for the foreseeable future.
“The sequester is an irrational, common-sense-defying fiscal policy” that should be replaced with a “big deal” that both cuts federal spending and while also raising revenues, Hoyer said.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said.