WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama isn't likely to launch a military strike on Syria if Congress votes against doing so, a top national security official said Friday.
During an interview on NPR's "Morning Edition," Tony Blinken, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said "the president of course has the authority" to take limited military action in Syria with or without the approval of lawmakers, but "it's neither his desire nor intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him."
While some White House officials have previously, and anonymously, suggested it would be "unthinkable" for Obama to strike Syria without the support of Congress, Blinken's comments are the most direct confirmation to date that how Congress votes on Syria is more than just political posturing. Thus far, the overriding message coming out of the White House is that Obama doesn't need Congress to proceed, but he'd sure appreciate their support.
A White House official said Blinken's comments are consistent with what the president has been saying all along.
"There is no change in our position. As the president has said, he has the authority to act, but his intention is to do so with the approval of the Congress," said the official. "He believes they will vote to authorize the use of military force."
The official added, "I'm not going to speculate on the president's decision-making if they don't approve; we think they will."
Congress is expected to begin voting next week on a resolution backing Obama's call for limited strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The administration insists it has evidence that Assad has killed more than 1,000 citizens through the use of chemical weapons. But although the White House has spent the last several days briefing members of Congress on the details, many lawmakers are still undecided on whether to support military action.
UPDATE: 10:35 a.m. -- Obama later refused to say what he would do in the event that Congress votes down the Syria resolution, when asked directly about the prospect.
"I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate," the president said during a press conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he is taking part in the G-20 meeting.
Obama also brushed off a question specifically about Blinken's suggestion that the president isn't likely to move forward without Congress.
"I don't think that's exactly what he said, but I think I answered the question," Obama said.