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Republican Who Asked For Congressional Say Gets His Wish


Tom Cole is a U.S. congressman from Oklahoma. He's a Republican and has served in the Congress since 2003. Congressman Cole, thank you for being with us.


LYDEN: Congressman, you signed a letter with more than 100 of your colleagues asking the president to consult with Congress before acting in Syria. Well, President Obama now says he will do exactly that. Are you happy with the president's approach?

COLE: I am happy with that. I'm very pleased with the president's decision. I think it's the right thing to do. And at the institutional level, frankly, I'm pleased to see Congress reclaiming a little bit of its war-making authority from the executive. I think long term whatever the consequence of the immediate decision, I think it's institutionally very, very important and a good thing. And I appreciate the president making that decision.

LYDEN: How will you vote? Do you know?

COLE: I do not know yet. I'm going to listen to the brief tomorrow on the exact nature of the use of chemical weapons, what we know. Then I'm going to be back in my district. I'll certainly be listening to my constituents and trying to think it through. Frankly, I suspect I will be an awfully hard sell. I've been very skeptical of this move because the way in which we've gone about it seems to be more about making a point than actually changing realities on the ground.

But again, I think the president's got a week or 10 days now to make his case. You know, I thought he was - made an excellent case today. So we'll look at the facts, listen to what my constituents think and then try to cast an informed vote when we come back.

LYDEN: What more could the president do to make his case for military action?

COLE: Well, I think he's got to tell us, you know, what happens after this. I don't think you have an action and it's just a once and forever action. Where does he think this will lead us? You know, what kind of credibility does he think is on the line? This is, by the way, somewhat of a new redline. And the Iraqis used poisoned gas against the Iranians in the '80s. That wasn't a redline for America. They used it against their own people with the Kurds. That wasn't a redline.

To some degree, the president drew this, I think, without thinking through perhaps what the consequences might be if he arrived to cash that check, so to speak. And I think that's where we're at.

LYDEN: You know, you mentioned these other human rights violations. The president has said that we are the United States of America and cannot turn a blind eye to the humanitarian violations in Syria. Has he taken a gamble here that his willingness to strike might be rejected by Congress?

COLE: Oh, I think he is taking a big risk. And, you know, there'll be a lot of cynics that say, well, perhaps that's what he wants. I don't believe that at all. I don't think any president would want their credibility undercut by the Congress. It was pretty tough for David Cameron. And he's not technically the chief executive of Great Britain, but he's as close as their constitutional system allows.

And, you know, I think if the president's turned down here, again, that'll be a pretty tough blow to his credibility. And I think it's going to be really difficult, I think, inside the Democratic Party, because the president's core support, of course, starts with his own party. So what will their leaders do? Will they be able to deliver a majority of their own members? I think that's very unclear.

They certainly weren't able to do that for him in the NSA debate. Speaker Boehner delivered a majority of the Republicans to support the administration's position, but leader Pelosi was unable to do that, although she was certainly supportive herself on the Democratic side. So I think, you know, the president's going to have a tricky sell inside his own party, let alone the rest of the Congress and the general electorate.

LYDEN: Tom Cole is a Republican congressman from Oklahoma. Congressman Cole, thank you so much for being with us.

COLE: Thank you, Jacki.

LYDEN: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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