WASHINGTON - Senior administration officials say President Barack Obama had planned to take military action against Syria without congressional authorization, but told aides Friday night that he had changed his mind.
Obama announced Saturday that he wanted to launch a military strike, but would first seek lawmakers' approval. He says congressional leadership plans to hold a debate and a vote as soon as Congress comes back in September.
Obama says he has the authority to act on his own, but believes it is important for the country to have a debate.
The officials describe a president overriding all his top national security advisers, who believe consulting with Congress was sufficient.
The officials say Obama spent the week wrestling with Congress' role and made the decision Friday after a lengthy discussion with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough. They say Obama decided seeking approval would make the U.S. stronger even though he still believes he has the authority to act alone.
The administration officials requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss Obama's decision-making by name.
Military action would be in response to a chemical weapons attack the U.S. says Syrian President Bashar Assad's government carried out against civilians. The U.S. says more than 1,400 Syrians were killed in that attack last week.
Rep. Juan Vargas responded to the president's announcement during a news conference Saturday afternoon.
"If in fact this regime has gassed its own children -- we have to act," he said.
But he added, "We have to make sure that's what they've done."
When asked about the mood of Congress and how difficult a proposition it may be for President Barack Obama to sell U.S. military action against Syria, Vargas answered there was "a lot of skepticism" on the part of many who believe the last time we went to war "on information that was flawed and questionable."
"There are many who are still skeptical that the information that is being provided is information that can be relied on," Vargas said noting the Obama Administration "is telling us they have the facts."
When asked if he felt Obama would be willing to override Congressional disapproval of U.S. military involvement in Syria, or lack of support from any of our other allies, Vargas said, "We have to be willing to act by ourselves. This is an issue that transcends one nation. We have to act on an issue like this. We can't let it go."
Rep. Scott Peters released the following statement regarding Obama's announcement:
"Reports that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, including children, are shocking. Acts like these are unconscionable and reprehensible. I understand President Obama’s concern that these atrocities not be ignored.
"As I consider the President’s request for support, I will need to determine our intended objective, the specific actions to be taken, the expected response, our exit strategy, and how these efforts will protect American interests both in the region and here at home. San Diegans have paid a particularly heavy price for our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. That's why I welcome the President's call for Congressional input on this very serious matter. This debate will allow Congress and the American people to have more clarity on the facts that have been gathered and on what our commitments will be moving forward. I personally look forward to a fully informed discussion in the coming weeks."
Rep. Susan Davis released this statement:
"In the spirit of the President's statement, I look forward to intense and rigorous meetings and debate prior to a vote of the Congress, which is the right thing to do.
"It is unconscionable for a government to use chemical weapons against its own people. Making a decision on what is in the best interests of the American people will take thoughtful and cautious deliberation.
"I have engaged on these issues before and am honored to represent my constituents at this very difficult time."
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter released the following statement:
"Given the situation at this time, the only responsible decision for the President was to request Congress make a decision on whether to authorize military action. In the coming days, Congress will review the same classified information the President has seen and both the House and Senate will be in a better position to make a judgment based on the facts."