Reporter: Isn't Taking Vote To Congress Giving Obama 'Political Cover?'

Reporter: Isn't Taking Vote To Congress Giving Obama 'Political Cover?'

State Department Jen Psaki was again put on the defensive by AP reporter Matt Lee on Thursday when asked to defend Kerry’s support for President Obama taking a vote for military action on Syria to Congress. Kerry called the move “courageous” and Lee wanted Psaki to explain how giving the President “political cover” not to act on Syria was “courageous.” Lee argued that if the administration really does believe that they have a moral imperative to act and that they can act without the authorization of Congress then the only reason to seek authorization is to provide “political cover not to follow the – not to do what he has said he thinks he should do, especially if he’s going to go ahead and do it anyway.” Lee concluded that “when Falstaff said the better part of valor is discretion, Shakespeare meant it as a joke. It’s not intended to be the way you go about being courageous.”


QUESTION: All right. Thank you for that. And can you just check and see if he raised this with Lavrov or if he thinks that it’s no – not really worth pursuing? The argument has been made that not acting would damage not only this President’s credibility but the U.S. credibility in – as a whole and future presidents’ credibility as well. That is still the argument the Administration is making to Congress, correct?
MS. PSAKI: We are certainly making the case that we need to hold the regime accountable, that there are future consequences of inaction.
QUESTION: Right. So a “no” vote risks U.S. credibility then?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think —
QUESTION: What I’m getting at —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — and I know that you’re confident you’re going to get the votes —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — but it goes back to my earlier question, because if you – if a “no” vote would in fact hurt your credibility, and not acting at all would hurt your credibility, that would suggest that you were go ahead and do it —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: — anyway —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I – just to be —
QUESTION: — even if there was a specific denial of authorization.
MS. PSAKI: Just to be clear, I didn’t use the word “credibility.”
QUESTION: No, the Secretary did, though. He’s used it many, many times, especially last week.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And that’s why I don’t understand why he – on Friday afternoon, he got up and made this great impassioned case and said that we’re going to lose credibility if we don’t act, and then the next day all the sudden it was, like, well, mmm, eh, the President is being courageous by going to Congress.
MS. PSAKI: Well, he’s —
QUESTION: It just —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The problem I’m having is that I don’t understand how this is not an exercise in giving the President political cover not to do what he said he would do.
MS. PSAKI: If the President of the United States and the Secretary and the national security team didn’t feel confident this was the right step and they weren’t going to press with every bone in their body to make this vote happen and have a successful outcome, they would not have been as strongly out there this weekend.
QUESTION: Right. Well – and I understand that, but just the decision to go to Congress when you say that you don’t need to puts at risk the credibility of this President, of the Administration, and of future administrations. Correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me —
QUESTION: Doesn’t it?
MS. PSAKI: Let me flip a positive, if I may here, Matt, is that the benefit of going to Congress and having a successful vote is that you are showing the unity between the representatives of the American public and the Executive Branch.
QUESTION: And you think what we saw yesterday shows – is a big display of unity between the Administration and representatives of the American public?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly know there’s a range of opinions in Congress —
QUESTION: Well, I don’t see how that strengthens the –
MS. PSAKI: — but we’re looking towards what the final vote is.
QUESTION: In fact, even if the vote is yes, if it’s split as badly as it seems, I see that – I don’t see how that is this overwhelming endorsement. In fact, it would hurt the endorsement, which is why I don’t understand how the President – I mean, how the Secretary is comfortable with the President’s decision to, quote/unquote, “act courageously” by going to Congress to get permission for something that he thinks is – says is morally right, that he has a moral obligation to do. I just don’t get it. I mean, when Falstaff said the better part of valor is discretion, Shakespeare meant it as a joke. It’s not intended to be the way you go about being courageous.
MS. PSAKI: Shakespeare quotes, I love it.
QUESTION: So I – that’s – I just – I can’t – that’s what I can’t understand about this. Because a no – it would seem to me that a no vote gives the President political cover not to follow the – not to do what he has said he thinks he should do, especially if he’s going to go ahead and do it anyway.
MS. PSAKI: Well, what’s —
QUESTION: Right? So the only reason to go to Congress, then, would be to get a no vote, and say, well, Congress said no, and just like the British Parliament said no, I have to do what the American people want me to do.
MS. PSAKI: I can assure you that the goal of all members of the Administration is to get a yes vote —
MS. PSAKI: — and they are going to Congress because they made the calculation, which was courageous, that we – that this would strengthen our hand and show the international community that the representatives of the American people, that the Executive Branch, all support action.
QUESTION: All right. But it sounds as though —
QUESTION: — if this is, in fact, a courageous move, that —
MS. PSAKI: (inaudible)
QUESTION: — the President would go ahead and do – would order the military strikes anyway, even if Congress specifically said no. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t have any – we’re confident that Congress is going to move forward and —
QUESTION: The question, though is – and I’d leave you this, and —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — I’ll stop after this, but I do have one logistical question.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: It will be very easy to answer.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll see.
QUESTION: The question I would leave you with on this is: Why risk it? Why risk the credibility of the United States on a vote that is not certain?
MS. PSAKI: Because they made the calculation it was worth it because having representatives of the American people’s – representatives of the American people stand with the Executive Branch and say this is the right step sends a powerful message.


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