Americans hate Congress, but want it to approve military action

August 30, 2013

The Obama administration is hoping to tamp down a growing chorus of skepticism on Capitol Hill toward military action in Syria -- skepticism that was punctuated Thursday when more than 170 House lawmakers signed a letter demanding congressional approval for any military action.

And while Congress remains deeply unpopular, polls find Americans have remained overwhelmingly supportive of requiring presidents to win its approval for military intervention overseas.

No major polls have asked about requiring congressional authorization on Syria, but in 2011 more than six in 10 registered voters in a Quinnipiac University poll (62 percent) said President Obama should have requested approval from Congress before authorizing military force in Libya.

The Libya intervention was unpopular, and the public's desire for oversight predates Obama and stretches back at least as far as the 1970s.

A 2008 Gallup poll found nearly eight in 10 Americans (79 percent) saying the president "should be required to get approval from Congress before sending United States armed forces into action outside the U.S." That opinion was nearly identical to 1973, when 80 percent supported requiring such approval.

2013-08-29 2008 Gallup poll congressional approval of intervention

Obama's predecessors have also faced a public desire for this check on presidential power. Seven in 10 Americans said George W. Bush should get Congress's sign-off before taking action in Iraq in a fall 2002 CBS News/New York Times poll, just before Congress authorized the use of force.

In a striking parallel, a USA Today poll 12 years earlier found 69 percent saying Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, needed congressional approval before taking action in Iraq. Big majorities also said President Bill Clinton should get approval for military action in Bosnia and Kosovo.

There are some exceptions. The 2008 Gallup poll found most Americans thought congressional approval was not necessary if the United States were attacked or if American citizens were in danger or in need of rescue. The public was split on requiring consent to respond to a natural disaster.

2013-08-29 Gallup congress oversight

More relevant to the Obama administration's plans in Syria, three-quarters of Americans said congressional approval should be required even if the president did not expect a long combat operation.

Obama finds himself in an unenviable position with regard to Syria, having said the Syrian regime would cross the so-called "red line" if it used chemical weapons on its own people -- something Vice President Biden said there is "no doubt" occurred.

Despite reports of a potential decision on action as early as Thursday, such action has not occurred. And British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday succumbed to a vote in Parliament against such use of force against the Syrian government.

Obama, it appears, struggles with similar hesitation in the American Congress, much of which is demanding a vote.

Fixbits:

The Obama administration will not block state marijuana laws.

The Republican National Committee said it recommended several speakers for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed military action against Syria after being briefed on the situation by Obama administration officials.

Same-sex married couples will be able to file joint federal taxes, just like heterosexual married couples.

A new poll shows Eliot Spitzer's wide lead in the Democratic primary for New York City comptroller has been erased by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Authorities arrested a man accused of making violent threats against freshman Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

The Obama administration closed two gun sale loopholes.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) is postponing an announcement on her future political plans for family reasons.

Must-reads:

"U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary" -- Barton Gellman and Greg Miller, Washington Post

"U.S. military officers have deep doubts about impact, wisdom of a U.S. strike on Syria" -- Ernesto Londoño, Washington Post

"White House, Republican senators give up on budget talks" -- Lori Montgomery, Washington Post

Aaron Blake and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report. 

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