Washington • President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Wednesday privately confronted the politically delicate question of whether Obama would be required to ask Congress for permission to take military action against Sunni fighters in Iraq but emerged from an hourlong Oval Office meeting with different views of what was said.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told reporters afterward that the president indicated that he would keep lawmakers posted on his Iraq deliberations but did not intend to seek additional authorization if he chooses to provide military assistance to the Iraqi government.
But White House officials and Democratic aides said Obama did not rule out the possibility of coming to Congress for a vote to back his actions, depending on what he decides to do. Obama, they said, told the lawmakers that administration lawyers were looking at the legal implications of potential actions, which officials have said could include targeted drone strikes but will not involve combat troops.
“I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals about action the president might take since, as we discussed earlier, he is still reviewing his options when it comes to direct action,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said before the meeting. “So I think I would say we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, if we get there.”
The congressional debates to authorize the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq more than a decade ago were among the most contentious in recent memory. And after more than a decade of war, many lawmakers remain deeply wary of again taking up the issue. Indeed, the prospect of a messy debate over war is something that Democrats would like to avoid in the middle of an election year.
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has told Democrats that he thinks the president has the authority to move without approval from Congress to pursue any action short of using ground forces, and that he should do so. The authorizations to use force in Afghanistan and Iraq remain in place. But White House officials said the question of whether they would apply to new action in Iraq would depend on exactly what military actions, if any, Obama decided to take.
The meeting Wednesday did little to make clear whether Obama had decided on a course of action in Iraq, where Sunni militants have seized several cities north of Baghdad.