65 Lawmakers Ask Obama to Consult on Syria

Billy House
August 28, 2013

At least 65 U.S. House members--including 10 Democrats--are urging President Obama in a letter to consult with Congress before taking any military action in Syria, insisting that doing otherwise would be unconstitutional.

The signers say they are ready to reconvene in Washington amid their summer recess at Obama's request to "share the burden" of the decision-making regarding a response in Syrian conflict, according to the letter, which is set to be delivered to the White House Wednesday afternoon.

"We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria," the letter said. "Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

"Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution," the letter said.

The letter was originally circulated by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., and Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is among those who have signed on.

Democratic cosigners include Reps. Gene Green and Beto O'Rourke of Texas; Zoe Lofgren of California; Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader of Oregon; Rush Holt of New Jersey; Bill Enyart of Illinois; Tim Walz and Rick Nolan of Minnesota; and Michael Capuano of Massachusetts.

The letter will continue circulating before delivery. Other lawmakers, including both Democrats and Republicans, have made similar, separate appeals that Congress be consulted.

In a separate statement issued Wednesday, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee who recently returned from a visit to the Jordan-Syria border as part of a congressional delegation, expressed concern about a potential U.S. military strike.

"Military action could have significant consequences, and there is no guarantee that it would improve the situation or promote a positive outcome. Any potential use of military force will have long-term costs and will put our troops in harm's way," Smith said. "Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of 'doing something' will not secure our interests in Syria."

The White House has made it clear it believes there must be some punitive action taken, following the chemical attacks in Syria on Aug. 21 that the U.S. blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, the administration also insists that Obama has not yet made a decision on how to respond.

On Wednesday, the White House released a list of the telephone calls made to foreign leaders since Aug. 21, hoping to underscore the extent that the administration is consulting the international community. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, and other administration officials all made calls.

But in the congressional letter, House lawmakers indicated that Obama should not look to the 2011 U.S. military action in Libya, which included cruise missile and other missile strikes, as a precedent.

In that case, they noted Obama had stated that authorization from Congress was not required because our military was not engaged in "hostilities," as defined by law. An April 1, 2011, memo to Obama from the White House Office of Legal Counsel also concluded that the president then could authorize military action without congressional authorization "to safeguard the national interest" because the operations were "limited in their nature, scope, and duration."

"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 lawmakers asked.

"If you deem the military action in Syria necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request," the letter says. "We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of the decisions being made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict."