Many in Congress want consultation before Syria action
August 27th, 2013
06:00 PM ET
11 months ago

Many in Congress want consultation before Syria action

Washington (CNN) - As the U.S. prepares for a possible military strike on Syria, more than three dozen lawmakers - among them a handful of Democrats - demanded the Obama administration consult them, saying taking action without congressional approval is unconstitutional.

"While the founders wisely gave the office of the president the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate - and the active engagement of Congress - prior to committing U.S. military assets," the 37 congressmen and women wrote to President Barack Obama on Tuesday. "Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution."

They said that the 2011 U.S. military action in Libya, which included airstrikes, was unconstitutional and set a bad precedent the Obama administration should not apply in this situation. In that case, Obama notified Congress of the military action but said the War Powers Resolution, which presidents since Richard Nixon have found ways to skirt, did not apply in that case because the U.S. was not engaged in "hostilities" as defined in the law.

But, the lawmakers argue that argument is rubbish. "If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute 'hostilities,' what does?" the letter reads. It's signatories include six Democrats and all are members of the House.

The White House continued on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for a military strike, including offering legal justification, following the August 21 suspected chemical attack that the U.S. blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted Obama had not yet made a decision on how to respond, but firmly said "there must be a response" to that alleged attack, which Syria denies.

While that government said rebel groups were responsible for chemical warfare, Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Syrian government forces are "the only ones that have the weapons."

The administration has not said whether the scenarios they are preparing would fall under the War Powers Resolution, nor if they plan to seek congressional authorization for military force, which is required under the act within 60 days of hostilities beginning. Lawmakers are slated to return from their five-week summer recess next month but could be called back earlier.

Other members from both sides of the aisle urged the administration to release more information publicly. Carney said Monday military action would be preceded by the public release of a U.S. intelligence report on the incident. That report is expected this week.

Republican Rep. Ed Royce, who is chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee but did not sign the letter, said, "The president should be making the case to the American public, and his administration should come to Congress to explain their plans."

One key Democrat told CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger that the Obama administration should not only put out evidence of the attack, but "additional evidence linking the regime to that use of chemical weapons."

"After all in Iraq there were claims that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical weapons. We went to war. It turned out not to be the case," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. "Now we know that (al-Assad) has stockpiles of chemical weapons. So the issue now is whether or not he used them. He of course has them. He has the delivery capability, and I believe the administration has additional evidence that will come forward."

But unlike some others, Van Hollen said he would support limited military action without prior congressional authorization if it were minor in scope and duration and did not put U.S. personnel at risk.

That could include the firing of cruise missiles from ships off the Syrian coast, considered by many watching the situation as the most likely avenue for the United States.

"If they want to take any action beyond that very narrow strike, they are going to need a congressional authorization going forward," he told CNN.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and senior member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, appeared on CNN, arguing for a more forceful military action.

"We can reverse the situation on the battlefield by taking out his air assets, cratering his runways, and getting the weapons to the right people so that they can reverse the momentum," McCain said Tuesday on "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

"If it's simply just going and doing some cruise missile strikes, then I think again, it may be counterproductive, in fact it may give Bashar al-Assad a propaganda advantage by saying he was able to resist the United States attacks."

At least one Democratic senator sided with McCain. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, said in a statement, "There is little chance that targeted airstrikes would destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, making the strikes little more than a slap on the wrist. Moreover, those airstrikes would prompt a reaction from Assad as well as the countries that finance his murderous regime.

"Before engaging in a military strike against Assad's forces, the United States must understand that this action will likely draw us into a much wider and much longer-term conflict that could mean an even greater loss of life within Syria," he wrote, urging the U.S. continue to apply "concerted diplomatic, political, and economic pressure" on al-Assad.

The Armed Services Committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, said Tuesday he had been briefed and that the administration was "proceeding cautiously" and "consulting with our allies and other countries in the region. ...

"The president is considering a broad range of options that have been presented by our military leaders," Levin said in a statement.

Others on Capitol Hill said they had also discussed matters with the Obama administration, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, CNN has learned.

In his conversation with White House officials on Monday, Boehner "made clear that before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability," his spokesman, Brendan Buck, said.

Carney said administration officials are "consulting with House and Senate leaders and leaderships of relevant committees."

– CNN coverage manager Steve Brusk, senior congressional producer Ted Barrett, Gregory Wallace and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.


Filed under: Congress • Syria
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. California Gary

    We should walk softly, but be sure the stick we are carrying is a big one. A few strikes of limited scope would only serve to inflame the situation and probably open us up to some terrorist strikes on our facilities in the area. If we strike, and I think we should, it needs to be big enough and do enough damage to their military capability that they don't even consider a response.

    August 27, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  2. Steve, New York City

    Syria's use of chemical weapons would be appalling!! The case against Syria also seems to be credible, in contrast to Dick Cheney's and his loser neo-con friends' asinine claims about Saddam's yellowcake from Niger or about his supposed links to Al Quaida (Sunni extremists connected to a dictator that drank liquor, womanized and wore armani suits? really?). That being said, sending a few cruise missiles into Assad's presidential palace could be a good thing, but American soldiers occupying another country in the Middle East would wreak of pure stupidity.

    August 27, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  3. Name jk. Sfl. GOP conservatives,the garbage of America.

    I wouldn't consult with any GOP , I thought they retired from governing for the last five years and wouldn't be on the ballot in 2014 because of sure losses to come in that election????

    August 27, 2013 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  4. Tony in Maine

    Absolutely freakin' amazing. Republicans howled, nay they shrieked, when it looked like President Obama might not react to early uses of gas. Then when he begins to rattle the sabers, the howl, shriek and stamp their feet that he has no right to commit American forces to anything.

    I think this is a great example of the Repoublican credo: If there is a black man in the White House, we are against anything he might do. BUT we are not racists, no sir, some of our best friends are blacks. I had a black gardener on my estate – good man as long as you kept on him.

    August 27, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  5. Grahame Rhodes

    Short sighted lunatics. If chemical weapons are allowed to proliferate then the US mainland will be next. then who are these people going to blame?

    August 27, 2013 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  6. Denali

    Nothing good comes from our picking sides. Never has. We can't act like our military is the global punisher that is suppose to go in and make men weep. It;'s ridiculously arrogant to say the least. I'm really wondering why so many other countries are pushing for us to be the ones to initiate missile strikes. While they are happy and secure and have no skin the game, we are caving to peer pressure to be the one's to spend the money and resources to change the course of action over there. Why? Let destiny do as it should. Other than our Presiden't stupid pr-democracy rabid speeches he gave in the Middle East, Americans are not the ones forcing Syria to sin as they are. They are a bunch of un evolved Muslims with thousands of years of bloody murderous sins under their belts. We are beyond foolish if we keep picking one sinning side over the other. Let's just live well and ignore them all.

    August 27, 2013 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  7. Woman In California

    I really hope the U.S. is not getting ready for yet another unpaid for, unprepared, exhaustive (maybe unnecessary) war. But before you un-Americans (who've never served in ANY war) but can advise the president jerks start attacking the president, just remember this:

    Lawmakers are slated to return from their five-week summer recess next month but could be called back earlier.

    Why are they always out having a good time on the taxpayers expense when the country needs them? What purpose do they serve? My hope is the president uses his good judgment on this and doesn't allow himself to be pressured into a trap which is what the republicans want.

    August 27, 2013 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  8. First

    It doesn't matter who actually used the chemical weapons, be it Assad (who probably did) or the rebels (who still maybe could have). Regardless, it's the way leading to further intervention. It's our excuse – our Gulf of Tonkin, our U.S.S. Maine, our casus belli – to make war against whichever side America sees fit. It will probably be Assad that we blame and retaliate against, and we're probably right to do so, but if we are wrong about this it will be far too late before anyone knows...

    August 27, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  9. Rick McDaniel

    Failure to get Congressional approval........should be sufficient cause for impeachment. Period.

    August 27, 2013 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  10. DixonIV

    WHY would we want Congress to have anything to do with any decision/s about war? The Congress is the worst in history and is so disfunctional it do nothing right. Our soldiers, sailors and airforce deserve much better than the current Congress and their self serving nonsense. I mean that toward the entire congress Democrate, Republican and Independents. You are all worthless, so stay on vacation and let the President and our great Military deal with this.

    August 28, 2013 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  11. The Great Pontificator

    Going in there is such a major mistake. I know the current leader there is pretty rotten, so what's the solution? Support the group that will be just as rotten and muslim extremists to boot? If there is no good option, then don't support any of them.

    August 28, 2013 04:41 am at 4:41 am |
  12. J.V.Hodgson

    I take the president of America's pledge to the people more seriously apparently than most. His duty/ pledge is to defend the United States against all "enemies" Foreign and domestic.
    The Syrian situation is a truly horrendous humanitarian and moral crisis, but it in no way demands the president to take this country to war... why is that civil war = to making Syria an enemy, threat, clear and present danger to the US??
    Once the president declares war the House or Senate must say yeah or nay!! It cannot start to define how it will be fought or how many cruise missiles or how many hellfire missiles may be used. That's nonsense. If congress wants to that join the military top command with them with appropriate military skills and qualifications for achieving military victory.
    War is war.. the only restrictions are international laws like the Geneva convention, the non spreading of land mines etc etc
    After that its dirty and will have collateral damage. Wars do not and will not settle political outcomes. Over thousands of years and wars none of them produced a single long lasting/ effective political outcome.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    August 28, 2013 04:54 am at 4:54 am |
  13. ghost

    The world cannot sit on it's hands while this man is killing it's people with chemical weapons. I hate WAR, but enough is enough. CLINTON 2016

    August 28, 2013 06:04 am at 6:04 am |
  14. kirk

    What's the definition of insanity again?

    August 28, 2013 06:17 am at 6:17 am |
  15. jboh

    Consultation w/congress means stall. If anyone waits for congress, nothing will be done ever.

    August 28, 2013 06:27 am at 6:27 am |
  16. Dixie

    Are we really going to do this again? What do we hope to accomplish? If we aren't even sure who we want to lead this country, what's the point? Are we prepared for the fight. They surely are not going to sit back let us bomb them. They will fight back. Are we going to just attack then run? That will make the US look more weak than doing nothing. Not enough is known at this time.

    August 28, 2013 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  17. 0g

    what they mean is they want brown envelopes from the military industrial complex and the foreign company haliburton

    August 28, 2013 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  18. GOP = Greed Over People

    The U.S. government should keep it's nose out of the Middle East, they have been at each others throat for 2,000 years. Nothing we as a nation can do will ever change that.

    Keep helping Israel and providing them with the latest weapons is the best we can do.

    August 28, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  19. Winston Smith

    Congress, want's to make sure that if there are any huge contracts given to weapons makers, that they will have access to, and possibly first dibs on the purchase of stocks and bonds from said companies.

    August 28, 2013 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  20. TONE

    Republiclowns Want to defund Obamacare but can find money to go to war i personally do not give a hoot about who is using chemical weapons in Syria once it is not being used against America, we need jobs, affordable health care, education, security, advanvement in science, and repair our infrastructure. We do not need any war let the rest of the world deal with this for once.

    August 28, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  21. Ted van Tol

    The line is the use of chemical weapons. The 100.000 who are killed with normal weapons does'nt matter?
    It stinks! The USA is not for a regime change? So the the governement that used chemical weapons can just continu governing? How hypocrite.
    btw the chemical weapons where used by the USA in Vietnam massively. The only ones who benefits from this situation is the weaponindustry, as always. It's politics as usual and don't tell me it has a moral goal.

    August 28, 2013 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  22. TONE

    Mr President stay out of this and let the saudis and all other arab countries take the lead, after all they understand the differing factions in the region let them do the bombing let them spend their own money.

    August 28, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  23. Anonymous

    Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and senior member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, appeared on CNN, arguing for a more forceful military action.

    Of course he is.

    August 28, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |