President Barack Obama said Saturday that he has decided that the United States should take military action in Syria but that he will seek a vote in Congress to authorize that use of force.
"All of us should be accountable as we move forward and that can only be accomplished with a vote," he said in calling for congressional action.
"While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific Congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective," he said. "We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual."
As the president spoke, protesters outside the White House could be heard in the Rose Garden chanting their opposition to military action.
Obama said that he spoke Saturday morning with leaders of both parties and both houses of Congress and that "they've agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session," he said.
Congress is currently scheduled to return to Washington on September 9 after a five-week recess. Obama indicated that the United States is prepared to launch a strike at any moment but that the ability to conduct a mission is not "time-sensitive."
"The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I'm prepared to give that order."
The decision comes one day after the administration said it has “high confidence” in intelligence assessments demonstrating that a Syrian chemical weapons attack killed more than 1,400 – including hundreds of children - on August 21.
But Obama faces growing opposition from the United States Congress as well as from international allies and a war-weary American public. A new NBC News poll published Saturday showed that eight-in-ten Americans want congressional approval before using force in Syria.
American lawmakers have insisted that the president continue consultations with Congress as he considers military intervention; some members of Congress want the president to call the Senate and House back early from a five-week recess to consider possible action in Syria.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a high-ranking member of the GOP, was the latest to make a formal call Saturday for a congressional vote before any force is used abroad.
“Before any military action is taken in Syria, the president should call Congress back into session and ask for a vote on the authorization to use force,” he said in a statement provided to NBC News.
Senators from both parties are set to receive separate unclassified briefings via conference call Saturday afternoon by members of the president’s team, including National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
An in-person classified briefing for members of the House is set for Sunday afternoon at the Capitol in Washington DC.
Obama said in brief remarks Friday that he is considering a “limited, narrow act” to respond to the use of chemical weapons, which he called “a challenge to the world.”
“In no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign, but we are looking at the possibility of a limited narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria but others around the world understand that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban and norm,” he said.
Shortly before the president’s remarks Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry offered a forceful case that the United States must respond to the “crime of conscience” committed by Syrian forces.