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Obama is open to air strikes against ISIS in Syria, says he doesn’t need congressional OK

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is open to conducting air strikes in Syria to combat the ISIS terror group, U.S. officials say. But it's unclear whether he will announce any such plan when he addresses the nation in a televised speech Wednesday night.

"Tonight you will hear from the President how the United States will pursue a comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, including U.S. military action and support for the forces combating ISIL on the ground -- both the opposition in Syria and a new, inclusive Iraqi government," the White House said in a statement Wednesday. "The President will discuss how we are building a coalition of Allies and partners in the region and in the broader international community to support our efforts, and will talk about how we work with the Congress as a partner in these efforts."

Obama's speech is scheduled for 7 p.m. and can be seen on FOX31 Denver and at KDVR.com.

The group calling itself the Islamic State is also known as ISIS and ISIL.The president plans to focus on three major areas, a senior administration official said. He will frame the threat; outline his strategy to address it, and share new proposals on how to fight and destroy the militant group, the official told Jim Acosta on Tuesday.

LINK: ISIS, ISIL or the Islamic State?

The President will offer a big picture of how he views ISIS. He'll explain that it has become a "core national security priority" and will say that ISIS cannot be allowed to secure a haven in a part of the world that is borderless, the official said.

Elements of the President's plans for ISIS are a work in progress, the official cautioned.

Obama's speech comes just days after he told reporters, "We don't have a strategy yet."

The Wednesday speech will provide Obama the opportunity to specify actions he has taken, such as building an international coalition that includes Arab partners from the region, and involving Iraqi forces along with potential Syrian rebel combat boots on the ground.

U.S. diplomatic efforts in the works this week could cause some specifics to evolve. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Lisa Monaco, the homeland security adviser, are traveling to the Middle East this week.

Kerry left Tuesday to push Sunni leaders in Jordan and Saudi Arabia to join the United States and its allies in combating ISIS.

No permission needed from Congress

The senior administration official declined to elaborate on whether the President has decided to go ahead with airstrikes in Syria, but administration officials have said the problem must be dealt with on both sides of the border.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group, which calls itself the "Islamic State," operates in both nations mentioned in its title.

Obama told congressional leaders Tuesday he has the authority to carry out his planned strategy against ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria without authorization from legislators.

But show of unity with Congress would help

But Obama has asked for congressional support to show the nation is united.

Obama believes the nation is stronger and its efforts more effective when he works with Congress to battle threats to national security, the White House said in a statement.

"The President told the leaders that he would welcome action by the Congress that would aid the overall effort and demonstrate to the world that the United States is united in defeating the threat," the statement added.

Earlier, two senior legislators -- one from each party -- told Dana Bash that a congressional vote on military action against the jihadists was unlikely despite calls for one by many of their colleagues.

Volatile issue before election could be politically risky

While some in Congress want to vote on the matter, taking up such a volatile issue as military action weeks before the November elections may be politically dangerous.

Obama has been criticized by conservatives and some Democrats for what they call a timid response so far to the threat by ISIS fighters who emerged from Syria to rampage through northern Iraq.

The President authorized airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq this year, but he faces pressure to expand the campaign to go after the extremists in Syria.

Obama and his top aides call such a military step one part of a broader strategy that includes establishing a stable representative government in Iraq, forming an international coalition that includes Middle East countries and increasing military aid to moderate opposition groups fighting the terror group in Syria.

The top Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate -- House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California -- got the first glimpse of Obama's plan to "degrade and defeat" ISIS at a White House meeting Tuesday.

Boehner said he would support Obama if the President deployed the U.S. military to help target ISIS leadership and train and advise Iraq forces.