WASHINGTON — House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called on the House of Representatives Friday to return from its two-week break in order to debate whether to authorize military action against Syria, while other members of Congress openly debated whether President Donald Trump needs Congress’ blessing before additional engagement.
“The President’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty. Congress must live up to its constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against a sovereign nation,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Friday, just 12 hours after US forces launched a missile strike on a Syrian airbase.
“As heartbreaking as (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s) chemical weapons attacks on his own people was, the crisis in Syria will not be resolved by one night of airstrikes,” Pelosi wrote.
A senior House Republican aide said there was no schedule update from Ryan’s office and that they have nothing to add beyond his statement issued Thursday night, in which he supported Trump’s actions.
This action in Syria was appropriate and just.
My full statement: pic.twitter.com/oIlOT65zTC
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) April 7, 2017
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been broadly supportive of Trump’s decision to strike back after Syria’s chemical attack. But Democrats and some Republicans have said they now want more answers on what Trump’s next steps will be — and whether that will require Congress to authorize further action.
Speaking on the Senate Floor Friday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there will be an all senators briefing today about Syria and last night’s airstrikes.
“This was an action of consequence. It’s a clear signal from America that Bashar al-Assad can no longer use chemical weapons against his own people with impunity. Additionally, for the attention of all senators, we’ll have a briefing on this matter later today,” McConnell said.
Pelosi’s comments led a Democratic charge for Congress to vote to authorize military action in Syria. It’s a step Congress was unable — or unwilling — to take in 2013 when Obama decided to ask Congress for approval first before he would strike the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Trump did not wait for that step, swiftly moving to respond to the chemical attack with a strike of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from US warships.
But Trump’s airstrike against Assad, in isolation, is more similar to Obama’s 2011 decision to use US warplanes to bomb Libya, which helped lead to the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi. Obama did not come to Congress before launching US military strikes in Libya, a decision that drew harsh criticisms from Republicans weary of an overreaching US military in the Middle East.
While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 7, 2017
Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer and Syria will be no different.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 7, 2017
Republicans on Friday were defending Trump’s strike. Sen. Marco Rubio, a defense hawk who has often been at odds with Trump, praised the President’s decision Friday and said that the missile strike was clearly legal.
“For those reasons, I think that had a clear objective. and they put the appropriate resources in order to achieve that. And let’s remember, this strike is legal,” Rubio said on CNN’s “New Day.”
The debate over authorizing military action against Assad is also reviving and effort for Congress to authorize the war against ISIS.
As the Constitution requires, the president must come to Congress to authorize any further use of force against the Assad regime.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) April 7, 2017
Some lawmakers pushed during the Obama Administration to put Congress on record authorizing military operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, arguing that previous authorizations in 2001 and 2002 did not cover the current fight against the terror group. But leaders of both parties were reluctant to wade into the controversial debate so close to the 2016 election, especially after many publicly regretted their votes to approve the Iraq war.
“What Syria did and President Bashar al-Assad did required action,” Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, also said on “New Day.” “The question is: What is the mission? What are we trying to accomplish? How do we get Assad out of Syria and end the civil war? We don’t know the President’s policies in that regard. There’s a lot of questions Congress would like answers to and the American people would like to have answers to.”
In the hours after Thursday’s strike, several lawmakers said they were reintroducing their bills for a war authorization against ISIS.
“This missile strike and the military action of our forces already in Syria, have yet to be authorized by Congress,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “I will be re-introducing an authorization for use of military force against ISIS and al Qaeda when Congress returns to session.”