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Obama meets with congressional leaders on Islamic State strategy

Obama meets with congressional leaders on Islamic State strategy
President Obama meets with, from left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office on Sept. 9. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

President Obama huddled with congressional leaders for more than an hour Tuesday to discuss his administration's plan to tackle the rising threat of Islamic State, a day before he lays out the case publicly in a prime-time national address.

Tuesday's gathering in the Oval Office comes amid calls by some for the president to seek new congressional authorization for any escalation of the nation's military commitment in the region, a move that many lawmakers worry would put them in a difficult political position with just eight weeks before the midterm election.

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The four invited leaders were House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The White House said in a statement that the meeting was a "productive discussion." Obama told leaders that "he has the authority he needs to take action against ISIL in accordance with the mission he will lay out in his address tomorrow night," the statement said, using one of several acronyms for Islamic State. Obama also said he welcomed support from Congress as a way to demonstrate American unity to the rest of the world.

Obama will speak at 9 p.m. EDT Wednesday from the State Floor of the White House to outline his "strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying" the terrorist group, the White House said.

An aide to Boehner said after the meeting that the speaker would support the president if he chose to deploy the military to help train and play an advisory role for the Iraqi security forces and assist with lethal targeting of Islamic State leadership.

"The speaker expressed support for certain options that have been proposed by the president, such as increasing the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces and training and equipping the Syrian opposition," said the aide, who was not authorized to speak publicly. "The speaker made it clear that ISIL is preparing to fight us, and that, as we learned in Syria, the longer we wait, the more difficult our choices become. It is in the best interests of the United States and our allies to put in place a strategy that rises to the challenge of the threat we face, and takes the fight directly to ISIL in a decisive fashion, the speaker said."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters earlier that the president believed "in robust congressional consultation" when it comes to military action, and noted that rank-and-file lawmakers will have access to more information this week during a series of closed briefings planned on Capitol Hill.

"He understands that Congress has and should have a role as these important decisions are being made. And the president would certainly welcome support from members of Congress, however they choose to show it, for the steps that we're taking," Earnest said.

McConnell said before the meeting that Obama would benefit from having Congress "buy into" his new strategy, though he did not specifically say the question should come to a vote.

"I've been out on the campaign trail. This is the first time anything outside the borders of the United States has come up this year in my campaign," he said of the Islamic State threat.

Follow @mikememoli for more news out of Washington.

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