September 1st, 2013
01:18 PM ET
5 years ago

Members of Congress split over Syria decision

(CNN) – Lawmakers were divided Sunday on whether to support President Barack Obama's call for military action in Syria.

Obama announced Saturday he believes the United States should take limited action, but he pledged to seek approval from Congress first.

Supporters of a military strike said Sunday the U.S. must send a message to Syria and other countries that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. Opponents argued the U.S. should pursue more diplomatic channels rather than position itself in yet another overseas military conflict.

The split does not simply fall along with party lines. Some lawmakers support the president's decision to come to Congress, while others are bothered he did not act more quickly. Others who are undecided said they want to see a clear plan of action for taking out Bashar Al-Assad, while some are more likely to be on board if the president can build a broader coalition.

The White House is already working to present its case to lawmakers. Members of Congress will get a classified briefing on Syria Sunday afternoon, and Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham – two powerful Republicans on the Armed Services Committee–are headed to the White House on Monday.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who announced Sunday the U.S. has evidence that signatures of sarin were found in Syria, said on CNN he's confident Congress "will do the right thing."

Not a partisan issue

Republican Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia stressed Sunday that partisan gridlock has nothing to with the division over what to do with Syria.

"Party does not have anything to do with this," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "I really believe that. Maybe that's some American idealism coming out of me, but I've not heard one member of my Republican conference mention anything about partisanship here."

That sentiment was evident Sunday as a number of lawmakers gave varying reasons for their decision to support or oppose action in Syria.

Rep. Adam Smith, a top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, was skeptical that launching strikes against Assad's regime would do anything to deter him or anyone else from using chemical weapons in the future. He pointed to the death of Saddam Hussein as an example.

"If this is going to send a signal to dictators that you can't do that, here we are not too many years later (after Hussein's ouster) and Assad is using chemical weapons," he said on CNN. While the arguments for action in Syria are "compelling," Smith would not commit to a "yes" or "no" vote.

His fellow Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, said he would readily vote "yes" if the vote were held today, saying "the whole world is watching."

"My God, we're the United States of America, and we have to stand for something," he told CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger. "If we're not going to stand up to a thug like Assad and say we're not going to let you gas your own people and commit war crimes, then who are we as a nation? I think we need to stand up and clearly say this is unacceptable."

McCain: Obama's reversal could have 'serious consequences'

McCain said he doesn't know how Congress will vote, nor does he know how he will vote until the White House presents a strategy to topple the Assad regime, rather than taking punitive steps.

Speaking to CBS' "Face the Nation" McCain said he and others "will be wanting a strategy, a plan, rather than just launching cruise missiles and that's it."

The 2008 GOP presidential nominee has been one of the leading voices in the Senate in favor of U.S. action in Syria. He said Obama has called him and Graham for a meeting at the White House Monday to talk about the situation.

"The best way is to eliminate the threat of Bashar Al-Assad's continued use of chemical weapons – and, by the way, we know he's used them numerous times before - would be the threat of his removal from power," McCain said.

READ: Statements by other lawmakers

He disagrees with the notion that seeking congressional approval at this stage sends a strong message, saying the president could have taken action on his own earlier if he wanted to.

"But at the eleventh hour, when the strikes–leaks have been massive and unprecedented–are already planned, we know what ships are there, we know how many missiles…then a reversal at this point, I think, has serious consequences," he said, speaking of the risk of a possible "no" vote from Congress.

Kerry defended the president's decision to seek authorization from Congress before taking military action, saying the move will make the United States "stronger in the end" should the country decide to move forward with a strike.

"It's amazing to me to see people suddenly standing up and taking such affront at the notion that Congress ought to weigh in," he said on CNN. "I mean, I can hear the complaints that would have taken place if the president proceeded unilaterally and people say, 'Well why didn't you take the time to consult?'"

Rogers: 'This isn't reality TV'

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he believes Congress "will rise to the occasion" and recognize the situation is a "national security issue."

"This isn't about Barack Obama versus the Congress. This isn't about Republicans against Democrats. This has a very important worldwide reach," the Michigan Republican said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Describing the evidence as "convincing," Rogers said "it is hard to walk away from the information that is on the table and not come to the conclusion that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons."

Some critics argue the president's decision to involve Congress shows a lack of leadership and that he's simply shifting the responsibility to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. But Rogers said it's the constitutional role of Congress to provide for national defense.

"Why shouldn't Congress share in the responsibility? If you believe in the War Powers Act, which I do, if you believe in the constitution of the United States that firmly puts in the first article the responsibility for Congress to provide for the general defense, that means we're involved in this discussion–and we should be," he said.

Rogers said the U.S. needs to make it clear to North Korea and Iran that it won't accept the use or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
"If you don't send that message, that has real world consequences. This isn't a reality TV show.

At the end of the day, something will actually happen. People will lose their lives. Nations will make a decision moving forward on chemical and biological weapons based on what we do here," he said.

Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island agreed the president "made the right decision" to consult Congress.

"He was very clear that he had not decided on final military action, and then I think he rightfully recognized that in the long run he, the country and the world would be stronger if Congress was supportive of his activities, because this is not just a short term effort, this is a longer term effort," Reed said on "Fox News Sunday."

Rep. King slams Obama's 'mixed signals'

But fellow Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said the president has been sending "mixed signals" over last 10 days, and his decision to seek input from Congress is a "clear failure of leadership."

"If you feel so strongly about it and if he doesn't want to take the action himself then he should call us back into session tomorrow," King said on "Fox News Sunday." If the vote were held today, King predicted House Republicans would vote "no" over taking military action, though he said he personally would vote "yes."

Congress returns from recess on September 9, but some are calling for lawmakers to come back earlier for a special session so a decision can be made sooner. Rep. Adam Schiff, a senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, urged House Speaker John Boehner to reconvene the House given "the gravity of the situation in Syria."

"Now that the President has called for a vote on a new authorization to use force, it is all the more essential that we be called back into session immediately," he said Saturday in a statement.

Some lawmakers have cited President Ronald Reagan and President Clinton as former commanders-in-chief who acted without asking for congressional approval, saying Obama certainly has the right to do so.

As a former senator, however, Obama was clear on how he felt about the 1973 War Powers Resolution, a law requires the president to seek consent from Congress before force is used or within 60 days of the start of hostilities.

Obama criticized President George W. Bush for not obtaining renewed authorization for the war in Iraq. And as a candidate for president, Obama reaffirmed his stance, telling the Boston Globe in a questionnaire that "it is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action."

But the president did not seek consent from lawmakers when the U.S. engaged militarily in Libya, nor when Obama expanded the war in Afghanistan. In both instances, members of Congress complained loudly, but the president defended his decision.

Other avenues encouraged

While Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky applauded the president's decision to have Congress weigh in on the Syria issue, he strongly disagreed with the idea of taking military action in the country, saying the situation is too complicated.

"I think the war may escalate out of control and then we have to ask ourselves, who is on America's side over there," Paul said. "If the rebels win will they be America's ally?"

Paul said the Obama administration should engage more effectively with China and Russia, two of Syria's closest allies.

"I think the best outcome for all the major powers would be a peaceful transition in government and Russia could influence that if they told Assad, 'No more weapons," Paul said.

Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas announced Saturday he also will not support military action.

"America cannot afford another conflict that taxes our resources without achieving goals that advance American interests," he said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, meanwhile, said he doesn't think Congress will approve the president's request and pointed to a weakened U.S. military and potential escalation of violence as major reasons not to intervene in Syria.

"This could be a war in the Middle East," he said Sunday on Fox.

CNN's Tom Cohen, Greg Clary, Leigh Ann Caldwell, and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

Filed under: Congress • John McCain • Mike Rogers • Rand Paul • Syria • TV-State of the Union
soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. don in albuquerque

    You have gotta love some of these posts. Talk about America being land of brave, home of the free, and universe of the nut ball.

    September 1, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  2. JM

    If Obama didn't intervene when the Iranian police was shooting protestors in cold blood and beating them to death in the street in 09, then why would he intervene now ?, there is a red line when hundreds are killed by gas, but not one when thousands are killed by bullets, grenades and rockets ? This is clearly a war for Obama's integrity, and he wants to spill more innocent blood just to back up a mistake by his speech writers!!! Obama is a joke, and is no better than Bush!!! Congress will not approve this, isn't there an election coming up soon ? And I hope they don't because we has Americans should be sick of American blood being spilled and taxpayer money being spent for people who want to destroy us, and it must stop now!!!!

    Let the middle east sort it out, if they destroy each other so be it, the burden is on the regional powers who refuse to act, not us, the only way we should get involved in the middle east again is in response to a direct attack against our territories or citizens!!!!!

    September 1, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  3. ari

    this is not a national security issue. syria has not threatened any of its neighbors, let alone the US. we're the ones threatening to bomb countries that have done nothing to harm us. WE are the invaders here. don't let mccain and friends fool you.

    September 1, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  4. Larry L

    If they vote in favor of war they should also vote to begin the military draft – with no deferments for gender, marital status, or college. If sending Service-members to die is appropriate, every American should share a part of the burden. Let every member of Congress view the evidence and publicly cast a vote. It's time to see them man-up to their job.

    September 1, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  5. oh no!

    virtually no one in a failing america that is not collecting welfare even considers obama a president.imagine what the rest of the would thinks of him!

    September 1, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  6. Homer

    Hey I thought BamBam asked Congress to ASK THE PEOPLE. Have any of you been asked by your Congressman? I sure as shit have not!

    September 1, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  7. don in albuquerque

    The one question we need to ask ourselves before we decide to bomb this country is quite simple. Who stands to make the most money off of it. Then there might be some understanding of why we have to be the worlds police. And then we need to discover which of our senators, reps., and justices are in their hip pocket.

    September 1, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  8. Susan

    Obama is brilliant. This is the kind of decision that would have saved America from a protracted, expensive, futile war in Iraq. It's also what the War Powers Act is all about. Obama has proven himself to be a very BIG thinker.

    September 1, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  9. Oh Yes!

    @oh no!

    Imagine what the "would" thinks of your intelligence level. I wonder, in fact, if you'll even understand my joke.

    September 1, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  10. don in albuquerque

    @oh no, Hmmmm must be alot more people on welfare then we knew. After all he defeated MittWitt quite handily. Why not take your hateful self somewhere else. Oh, and the rest of the world think he's pretty great.... it is us they laugh at.

    September 1, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  11. Dana

    Engagement of American military force in yet another conflict in the Middle East would be beyond folly. WMD usage by Syrians against Syrians (if proven) are a tragedy and a crime against humanity, but America's proper role inn world affairs cannot continue to be as "policeman" – we've spent far too much blood and treasure in a region that neither wants, nor appreciates our help. We should be utilizing precious resources in the recovery of physically and mentally wounded veterans, not conducting missile strikes with no long-term strategy in mind.

    September 1, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  12. Another Russian

    The world is yet to see any HARD evidence that Syrian government is behind the chemical attack. So far this seems to be a bait-and-switch game: the US is trying to convince the whole world that that the fact of zarin's use equals the fact that Asad used it. And that's not the case.

    Note, Russia and Syria confirmed the zarin use the same day it happened but they point out that this was a set-up by a third party, Al-Qaeda or else, to suck the West into the conflict.

    People, be vigilant!

    September 1, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  13. Amarjeet

    Republican Congress has to take strategic decision to authorize military action against Syria. If Congress refuses or disagree, it will amount to negation of interest in allies in Middle East and support of British Parliament ideology and philosophy. Republican Congress image shall corrode support of Jewish population as well others in support of democratic principles. It is a blue litmus test of GOP long cherished policy and philosophy. British parliament may have disagreed at this stage, it is in their own interest to support US decision of military action against Syria in Middle East as it may split & weaken other ally’s stance in Middle East as well others around the globe against terrorism. British cannot survive in isolation whatever the economy may be. Inaction and lack of support to US President may be a historic blunder by British Parliament as US always supported security of Britain since centuries and EU is the outcome of American philosophy. GOP may also have political image effected adversely already eroded by splinter groups. Any indirect support to opposition forces in Syria which has strong Al Qaeda elements may funnel out weapons to others around the world creating more and larger danger to US operations in Africa and other countriesA military commander in Iran said Saturday that Israel will face retaliatory attacks if the United States attacks Syria. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi also said that a U.S. offensive would threaten Russian interests.
    Why Russia, China, and Iran are standing by Syria

    September 1, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  14. Natty Bumppo

    I agree chemical warfare by anyone is bad, and I'm not taking sides on who released the chemicals, like some partisanship are doing; neither side is good. But I will take the side of staying out of their war. It doesn't directly affect the safety or security of the US at present, we should only work with our allies in the region to ensure it stays contained within Syria. Getting involved almost ensures the conflict might spread outside their border.

    September 1, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  15. Larry L

    "No single person should have the power to destroy the wealth and prosperity of this country by declaring or engaging in war. "
    You fail to mention the most important part of the decision – the lives of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and DoD Civilians. Even a deployment with no "boots on the ground" will cost lives to logistics and other operational endeavors.

    September 1, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  16. Steve

    Congress is 'on the Fence' with this Issue??? Why?? Just listen to the American PEOPLE for once & you'll KNOW what to DO – it's really not that hard!!

    September 1, 2013 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  17. Dave

    This was a brilliant move by the president. It basically shuts the Republicans up, and probably assure the US will not get involved in Syria. But it will be because Boehner couldn't get the votes in the House to authorize war. So deliciously, hilariously appropriate.

    September 1, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  18. Don

    This is the biggest example of "leading from behind" I have ever seen. North Korea, Iran, China, and well as others...are no doubt laughing their butts off right now. This whole thing is a joke.

    September 1, 2013 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  19. viranka

    UNBELIEVABLE – congress whines because they want to be involved and now are crying because they got their wish. the great congress of do nothing made up of the worst politicians of the 21st century.

    September 1, 2013 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  20. Guadalupe c.Rodriguez

    Yeah, what are we going to do about syria and
    Mersey? Bring Mersey to Justice n B tried
    Punish the leader, The Pres. Of Syriia briing him in to face up

    September 1, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  21. NOPE

    Bomb them, bomb them not. The country is on the brink of a total economic collapse due to "QE" by the feds. Military industrial complex makes a ton of loot in all of these conflicts. The failing dollar will produce one more catastrophe before its done flopping around gasping for air. WW3 on the brink? The powers that be are only worried about the future of their own enterprises. "Wanna make an omelet... gotta smash a few eggs... or poor people... however the saying goes.

    September 1, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  22. us_1776

    TEA party in Congress are bunch of spineless silver-spooned dweebs.

    They would run like little girls if they were ever asked to really defend this nation in the military.


    September 1, 2013 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  23. Guadalupe c.Rodriguez

    Invite Syrians pres .to the White Housen capture him there
    As a political prisoner of the USA fix him with 1grm of the
    Nerve gas that killed men women and children.So he knows the feeling.
    When he recovers Hang him till dead. WAR ONLY IF NEEDED TO

    September 1, 2013 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  24. Fuzzy Thinker

    One option-Look Russia and China in the eye and drop a nuclear package in the middle of the Syrian desert. Then give Syria 2 days to give control of all Chemical Weapons to UN for disassembly. If they drag their feet, hit all of their missile installations with cruise missiles. If they continue to drag their feet, bomb all their air force bases, sink their Navy and mine the entrance to the Naval base used by the Russians.. Then declare victory and go home.

    September 1, 2013 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  25. Tamie Miller

    Syria has been Syria since the beginning of time, and they've had one horrible leader after another, uprisings, rebels, etc...; we can't fix the whole world. If somehow their country is threatening America, our president will make the call, with or without the support of congress. Or have we suddenly forgotten he's done fine in the past getting problematic people problems abroad resolved. He is strong, and he understands the "big picture," other wise he wouldn't be the leader of the free world. How many war's do the U.S. have to pay for, when we have our own war going on at home: poverty, homelessness, unemployment, gun violence, inequality of women and immigrants, domestic violence, etc..., Let Syria fix Syria, we can't even fix ourselves; yes, its a tragedy but so are many things in America and its not being reported or headlined 24/7/365.

    September 1, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
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