Boehner might bring Congress back for Syria debate after all

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Story highlights

  • Lawmakers have left town until after the November elections
  • House Speaker John Boehner had suggested they might not debate Syria until next year
  • In a new interview, he says he would call lawmakers back if the President asked him
  • American forces have already started bombing targets inside Syria
Just days after suggesting lawmakers might not debate U.S. military involvement in Syria until next year, House Speaker John Boehner said he'd agree to call Congress back into session to vote if President Barack Obama sends up a resolution asking for the authority.
Boehner told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that if the President wanted a vote, "I'd bring the Congress back" -- never mind that the U.S. has already begun airstrikes inside Syria as part of a coalition.
Boehner hopes the President requests and sends up an authorization for use of military force as soon as possible," his spokesman, Michael Steel, told CNN Monday.
Boehner left a much different impression in an interview published Thursday in The New York Times.
He told the Times he doesn't believe it was appropriate for the so-called "lame duck" Congress to vote on military action since so many members would be leaving and those just elected wouldn't be eligible to vote until January.
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"I would suggest to you that early next year, assuming that we continue in this effort, there may be that discussion and there may be that request from the President," Boehner told the Times.
Leaders from both parties have come under criticism for leaving town without debating action in Syria.
"It's an act of cowardice on the part of Congress," Sen. John McCain told CNN's "New Day" on Monday. "They didn't want to vote before the election."
Steel denied that the speaker was sending mixed messages. He noted that even though the Boehner continues to oppose taking up major policy issues during lame-duck sessions, he would schedule a war debate if the Obama administration decided it needed congressional approval of the military campaign against ISIS.
Pressure on congressional leaders to vote on authorizing the war has been growing. Lawmakers left town earlier this month to campaign for the midterms. Since then, airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have intensified and many members are becoming increasingly vocal about the need for Congress to vote.
It's unlikely the President would press for a vote before the midterms because many Democrats are reluctant to take a controversial vote ahead of the elections.
On Monday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told Bloomberg News that Boehner shouldn't wait for the President to initiate a debate on Capitol Hill about ISIS.
"Since when do we sit around waiting, using the excuse he didn't ask?" Pelosi said at a meeting with Bloomberg reporters, and added, "No, if you want to have an authorization that has any constraints on the President, you don't wait for him to write it."
The speaker's office also held out the possibility that it would move on its own legislation.
Saying "there's only one commander in chief at a time, and it is traditionally his responsibility" to propose a new authorization, Steel told CNN "the speaker hasn't ruled out independent congressional action if the president doesn't request" an authorization for use of military force.
Boehner criticized the President for repeatedly insisting no U.S. combat troops would be deployed to battle ISIS and indicated he could support sending U.S. combat troops into Syria at some point.
"We have no choice. These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don't destroy them first, we're going to pay the price," Boehner told ABC.