As President Barack Obama weighs a response to what his administration has deemed a large-scale chemical attack on innocent civilians by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, questions have been raised as to how the White House will involve Congress in the final decision.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill appear somewhat split on how they view their role. While at least 33 members of the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle have already asked Obama to call Congress back from recess before making any decision about military action in Syria, others such as Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have said the president can act without their approval. The White House has said it is consulting with certain lawmakers regarding the next steps, though reports have suggested that the U.S. and Western allies may launch a strike in the next few days, long before Congress returns from its August break.
One thing is clear: As members of Congress, both Obama and Joe Biden would certainly have demanded an opportunity to debate any military action ahead of a decision.
Here's then-Illinois Sen. Obama in 2007, answering a question from the Boston Globe regarding concerns that then-President George W. Bush might bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress:
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 to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.
Biden was even less unequivocal at the time. Then in the midst of a presidential campaign, the Delaware senator would regularly remind voters that he was prepared to impeach Bush if he got involved militarily in Iran without getting congressional approval:
This was a well-established position for Biden at the time. In 1998, he stood on the Senate floor to decry what he called the "monarchist view of the War Power [Clause]," which he said was becoming regularly employed by presidents on both sides of the aisle. After criticizing both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and giving a lengthy bit of constitutional analysis, Biden concluded that “the only logical conclusion is that the framers intended to grant to Congress the power to initiate all hostilities, even limited wars.”
Their strong insistence that a president must receive congressional approval for almost any military action apparently changed when Obama and Biden got elected. In 2011, the White House told Congress point blank that it could act in Libya without waiting for lawmakers to debate the issue.