Obama changed his mind about consulting Congress on Syria on Friday night
Is this an excess of thoughtfullness? Or did someone slip him a poll showing that 80% of Americans wanted him to get congressional authorization?
President Obama was apparently ready to bomb Syria within days and without congressional approval until he started to have "second thoughts" on Friday evening.
President Barack Obama was ready to order a military strike against Syria, with or without Congress' blessing. But on Friday night, he suddenly changed his mind.
Senior administration officials describing Obama's about-face Saturday offered a portrait of a president who began to wrestle with his own decision - at first internally, then confiding his views to his chief of staff, and finally summoning his aides for an evening session in the Oval Office to say he'd had a change of heart.
The ensuing flurry of activity culminated Saturday afternoon in the White House Rose Garden when Obama stood under a sweltering sun, his vice president at his side, and told the American public the U.S. should launch a military strike to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for a chemical weapons attack the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people last week.
But first, he said, he'll ask permission from Congress.
He may have been thinking of his statement back in 2007 when he said "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat." But flip flops haven't bothered this president before. He's had tons of them.
Something else was at work. Cold feet?
All that changed Friday night, when Obama left the West Wing with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough. Under cloudy skies and temperatures nearing 90 degrees, the two walked on the White House grounds for the better part of an hour, and Obama confided in his adviser that he had changed his mind. He laid out an idea to ask Congress to approve a strike.
By 7 p.m., top aides including deputy national security advisers Ben Rhodes and Tony Blinken had been summoned to the Oval Office, where Obama shared the new plan. It was the right thing to do, the president said, and would make the U.S. stronger.
Aides went to work immediately, with some drafting an authorization that Congress could take up and others hashing out the timeline.
The article doesn't say who precisely was at this meeting, but one can assume his political advisors were there. Rhodes is a former speech writer and Blinken is married to one of Biden's aides. Not exactly heavy hitters on the administration's national security team.
That meeting came next:
But the next morning, there was pushback from some on the president's team. The National Security Council convened Saturday to firm up the plan, with Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, national security adviser Susan Rice and others in attendance.
When Obama said he wanted to ask Congress for a vote, some of his advisers dissented. Officials wouldn't say which participants argued against Obama's proposal.
After a two-hour debate, Obama's team agreed to support Obama's decision, officials said. So Obama went upstairs and called the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to inform them of his about-face. He also notified French President Francois Hollande.
By mid-afternoon, Obama emerged in a steamy White House Rose Garden, surprising lawmakers, reporters and the public with news of his plan.
"I'm ready to act in the face of this outrage," Obama said. "Today I'm asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation."
Then Obama and Biden left the White House by motorcade to play a round of golf.
It's already been commented upon that the president didn't ask Congress to rush back to Washington, so just how serious he is about this entire issue should now be called into question. Is the president looking for an out on Syria?
If so, he may get it.