September 1st, 2013
01:18 PM ET
9 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. Ben

    be nice if the one who sits in the White House and the congress would actually do what the PEOPLE wanted and not their political wants. What 95% of the population are against this False Flag operation and want to stay out of Syria.

    September 1, 2013 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  2. Robert

    We have no business over there if this was North Korea are we going to go and try and take them out. No Sir let them work out there own issues we don't need to fight another war we cannot win.

    September 1, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  3. TheTruth

    We have seen false flags several times before such as the Maine, Gulf of Tonkin, and Downing Street Memo. In each instance the government and its media puppets spread war hysteria. The result = needless deaths, wastage of tax dollars, and huge profits for wealthy elites. I am betting that the Kerry-Obama campaign is one designed to expand the current war, spread regional instability, and lead to further conflict. You can bet the family farm that Assad did not use outlawed weaponry especially in view of the fact that the attack took place on the day UN inspectors appeared to check on his military's activities. All of these charges bespeak of the same campaign used by Bush in the lead up to his war on Iraq. Years later the majority of Americans who fell for his campaign of lies now regret they believed his lies. I guarantee those who are shouting for war will soon regret succumbing to this hysteria as well.

    September 1, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  4. Robert Constant

    On the one hand, there are enemies of the US on both sides. Why not let them kill each other off? On the other hand ,do we really want to live in a world where self interest or cowrdice let bystanders look on while innocent civilians, women and children are murdered with poison gas? Is that who we are?
    It is just and proper that the Representatives of the American People decide. Let them go on record so History will record the values and principles of each of them.
    It is proper and Constitutional that this decision be made by them. Without question, the President has made the right decision to let the People decide.

    September 1, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  5. GonzoinHouston

    Obama was smart to let the Congress vote on this one. As far as the GOP is concerned, Obama has already met the standards for impeachment; he's a democrat and republicans have a majority in the House, and that's all they need. If he acts on his own and something goes sour, they will immediately begin proceedings.

    September 1, 2013 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  6. U.S.M.C. 1371

    Vote No!!!!! We don't want to be involved in this. Not to mention the coward in-cheif is hiding even on this.

    September 1, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  7. Steve Hamilton

    More people should listen to Mike Rogers and stop second guessing the Commander in Chief. It's wise for the president to wait until Congress is back and to involve them in the decision making process. At this point, the delay by another two days to give Syria's government a shot over the bow, isn't going to make any substantive difference.

    September 1, 2013 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  8. Liz the First

    "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!"

    As opposed to your 'president,' who made us the laughing stock of the world and thought nothing of wasting our blood and treasure on a personal vendetta against Saddam? to say nothing of trashing our, and the world's, economy. your blind hatred has totally severed your ties with reality.

    September 1, 2013 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  9. Myron Gilbreath

    I have never understood why nations in the European area who say they detest such killing ,children or not, step in and stop it. They figure the U S will step in and furnish the lives and money as usual, perhaps. This higher moral courage does not stick with these nations but a short while. Lives do not seem to mean much in this area of the world.

    September 1, 2013 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  10. sbblakey777

    @Larry L, they aren't sending troops in, they're conducting airstrikes. It isn't a full-blown invasion. It says in the second paragraph that Obama wants to take limited action in Syria.

    September 1, 2013 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  11. ACSJ

    The evidence is NOT clear who launched chemical weapons. Demand your Congressman vote NO on the attack

    September 1, 2013 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  12. darke

    Didn't Hitler gas his own people?

    Right, we should definitely do nothing then!!!

    September 1, 2013 11:48 pm at 11:48 pm |
  13. michael ellington

    Forget it congress don't even think about sending warfare to syria we don't have the funds to do that we don't need to get involved with another conflict in a foreign country we need to look at our own problems here in america this is what most americans want now.......

    September 1, 2013 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  14. michael ellington

    congress : if you vote to send warfare to syria most people will vote you out next election you wait and see.....

    September 1, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  15. David

    So ... it's decided. We have to kill some Syrians. I wonder if 1000 is enough – or is 10,000 too many ???
    Want to make sure we send the right message of help to the Syrian people.

    September 2, 2013 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  16. charley in california

    Let the Middle East Region police their own radicals. No one can remember seeing the rich sons of Kuwaiti sheiks fighting in the first Gulf War. They were all partying in Paris.

    Let the United States sit this one out (Syria) and let the Arab states clean up their own mess.

    September 2, 2013 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  17. Anonymous

    don't do anything with Syria, pull all of our troops out of Iraq and Afganistan right now. Forget those people, they all have said they don't want us there anyway. Save more money and more lives that way, Wise up lets take care of our own people here, There are a lot of countries keeping there nose in there own country, so we need to be like them, keep our nose out of the other countries business.

    September 2, 2013 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  18. J.V.Hodgson

    Just sit back relax and watch republicans especially obfuscate about why they cant vote for the presidents policy. They will play this as OBAMA weakness and in the process tear down the credibility of the USA and blame him for doing it.
    Just like they lost America's credit rating Republicans are now going to destroy our international credibility.
    You know it makes me feel bad... if he had gone ahead as CIC in the current house environment Republicans would have launched impeachment resolutions and used that as a reason to defund Obama care and not increase the debt ceiling. Immigration bill? What's that.... just gives voting rights to people that wont vote for Republicans. A budget... Republicans complain a budget was not presented, and now when one is it is filibuster any attempt at reconciliation.

    September 2, 2013 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  19. renaldo himmelbleiberIV

    It doesnt matter,any longer. The dumbest person in the world knows that the decision for the president will be to benefit his ego and his legacy,with little thought to anything else. Surely,even liberals now see that.

    September 2, 2013 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  20. L.A. Paul

    If President Obama would like my support for a "limited" attack on Syria, I would like the following to be confirmed in advance: that Syria and/or it's allies will not retaliate (against the U.S. or Israel or any other U.S. ally), that we will not continue to bomb them even if/when they do respond (after all, who wants another elongated war?), that we will successfully destroy their weapons with our bombs/missiles (of course, they've had enough time to move them to safe-houses), that no innocent civilians will fall prey to our attack, that our attack on them will not increase negative sentiments from other Arab countries (or Russia for that matter), and that he will guarantee to give up his office of President if one U.S. civilian or military member is harmed in a very likely military or terrorist response.

    September 2, 2013 01:44 am at 1:44 am |
  21. rw

    WE need to stay out of it, sorry, but I feel we have plenty of problems in this country. we need fix our own first

    September 2, 2013 04:13 am at 4:13 am |
  22. PEACHY

    Yea let's send our brave troops over there yet. let a few hundred of them get gassed, what the hell. does'nt matter which side we aid those muslims all hate our guts. have you forgot the celebrations over there when the towers went down? did kerry greave any when 4 million cambodians were slaughtered while he was addressing congress how his fellow vietnam brothers were baby killers? let the middle east take care of it, it's their problem not ours. if they want to gas the whole damn region, good. I DON"T CARE

    September 2, 2013 04:24 am at 4:24 am |
  23. Ian Elliott

    The vote, when it is taken, will be only superficially about action in Syria. In the larger sense it will define America's future role in world affairs. The idea of America as the leader in the West with a moral mandate suffered great damage under the Bush-Cheney administration. The ennervated economy disinclines the general population from further foreign adventures. I believe that Congress will turn the President down on this. For a picture of America's future status in the world read the Tale of Wen-amon, penned after Egypt lost its empire.

    September 2, 2013 04:29 am at 4:29 am |
  24. Sheila

    I agree with Larry L – every American should share a part of the burden, and if we do like hitler done, we wouldn't have anybody in our country born with down's syndrome & everything else that people has, or any other birth defects. He wanted people who were in perfect physical shape, with all their limbs & etc. He put those people on the front lines, that didn't have the perfect body

    September 2, 2013 05:49 am at 5:49 am |
  25. Clarke

    I wonder if these people can just vote one way or the other, with out doing the lets make a deal. I will give a yea vote if you give me this. The yea votes are what costs so much to taxpayers. I wish they would vote with just heart and soul and not what they can get from it.

    September 2, 2013 06:40 am at 6:40 am |
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