Congressional lawmakers, bitterly divided this week by Supreme Court battles and budgetary issues, are united in calling for President Donald Trump to have a comprehensive Syria policy beyond Thursday’s targeted retaliatory airstrike against Bashar Assad’s regime.
Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate on Friday praised Trump’s decision to launch more than 50 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian air base in response to the chemical weapon attack earlier in the week that killed scores of Syrian citizens – an action U.S. officials say was conducted by Assad’s government.
But Trump appears to be on a short leash. Several congressional lawmakers in both parties say he needs to come to them to seek war powers in Syria if he intends further U.S. military action in that civil-war-torn country.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., urging him to call the House back into session to debate and vote on an authorization for the use of military force in Syria.
The House adjourned Thursday for a two and-a-half week recess. Senators were expected to leave town Friday.
“As heartbreaking as Assad’s chemical weapons attacks on his own people was, the crisis in Syria will not be resolved by one night of airstrikes,” Pelosi said in the letter. “The killing will not stop without a comprehensive political solution to end the violence. The American people are owed a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives to keep our brave men and women in uniform safe and avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians in Syria.”
Ryan’s office rebuffed Pelosi’s call to recall House lawmakers. AshLee Strong, a Ryan spokeswoman, said Thursday’s missile launch “was fully within the president’s authority.”
Strong added that “It is now appropriate for the administration to consult with Congress as it considers next steps to resolve the long-running crisis in Syria.”
I encourage our Leadership to call us back to Congress so we can debate whether additional military action might be needed to advance the security of the American people
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus
Several Republicans echoed Pelosi’s call for congressional authorization for military action in Syria.
Among them was Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
“Make no mistake, no matter who is president or what their party is, it is my firm belief that the president needs congressional authorization for military action, as required by the Constitution,” Paul said in a Fox News online editorial piece Friday. “I call on this president to come to Congress for a proper debate over our role in Syria, just as I did in 2013 when President Obama contemplated acting in Syria.”
Getting and issuing such an authorization has been a challenge over the years for the White House and Congress.
President Barack Obama sought an authorization for the use of military force for Syria in 2013 but met resistance on Capitol Hill from Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans who thought his war powers proposal was too broad and from hawkish GOP lawmakers who thought it was too restrictive.
Today, “I’m very heartened that there are calls from both sides of the aisle to do an AUMF,” said Christine Wormuth, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies who served as undersecretary for defense policy at the Defense Department from 2014 to 2016. “The concern that I have is that the same dynamics that made it impossible for Obama to get Congress to coalesce behind a new AUMF are still going to be in place.”
I call on President Trump to develop a comprehensive strategy to end Syria’s civil war. Congress can then consider an AUMF if additional force is to be used. I fully support a robust U.S. role in ending the Syrian civil war as soon as possible
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
The authorization “becomes the legislative expression of the U.S. public’s support for intervention into the Syrian conflict, and I don’t think we have a consensus amongst the American public about what we’re willing to do,” Wormuth added.
Still, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said, “It will be important for the administration to engage with Congress and clearly communicate its full strategy to the American people.”
Agreeing with Corker’s sentiments was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who said, “It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult Congress before implementing it.”
Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who fought bitterly with Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, stressed that the White House needs to have a strategy for dealing with Assad and the humanitarian crisis in Syria, which vexed Obama.
“President Trump has made it clear to Assad and those who empower him that the days of committing war crimes with impunity are over,” Rubio said. “What must follow is a real and comprehensive strategy to ensure that Assad is no longer a threat to his people and to U.S. security, and that Russia no longer has free rein to support his regime.”
Cruz add that “any military action in Syria must be justified as protecting the vital national security interests of America – including decisive action to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of radical Islamic terrorists.
“I look forward to our commander in chief making the case to Congress and the American people how we should do so in the days ahead.”
Reps. Steve Russell, R-Okla., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., co-chairs of the Warriors Caucus, a bipartisan group of combat veterans in Congress, said, “Military action without clear goals and objectives gets us nowhere.”
“We look forward to hearing the president present a plan for Syria to the American people, for Congress to agree on bipartisan action and for America to partner with the world community to help bring this treacherous conflict to an end,” the two lawmakers said in a statement.