Rep. Lofgren: Congress Should Decide U.S. Action In Syria

Melissa Block speaks with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California, about possible U.S. intervention in Syria.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California is among nearly 200 members of Congress who've signed letters to President Obama demanding he seek authorization from Congress before ordering the use of military force in Syria. To do otherwise, they say, is unconstitutional.

Congresswoman Lofgren joins me now from San Jose. Welcome to the program.

REPRESENTATIVE ZOE LOFGREN: Thank you.

BLOCK: And first of all, Congresswoman Lofgren, if this were to come before Congress, if this were put to a congressional vote, how would you vote? Would you vote to authorize military action against Syria?

LOFGREN: I'm skeptical, but I can't answer that now because I would need to listen to the president's proposal. I would need to understand the need for action, why it was in America's interest to do this, why it was in the world's interest to do it, what are the unintended consequences, what's the endgame for the United States. None of those questions have been answered yet.

BLOCK: You heard what Secretary of State John Kerry had to say today and the president. Did anything that you heard from them sway your mind, change anything about your thinking?

LOFGREN: Well, I guess here's the question - nobody is arguing that the use of chemical weapons is right or moral. It's appalling. So that's really not the point. The point is what should the United States do? Should we engage in an act of war? And in order for that to occur - the law is very clear. It's not a decision the president gets to make on his own. It's a decision made by the full American government, of the Congress with the president. And to do otherwise would violate the law, but it would also be a mistake in terms of the political culture of our country. The American people are not for this right now.

BLOCK: Let's look back to the U.S. action in Libya in 2011, which did not have congressional authorization. The Justice Department at the time said that Congress' authority is limited by how you define war. And by its definition, it involved prolonged substantial military engagements, exposure of U.S. military personnel to significant risk over a substantial period. The White House would argue this is not that. This is a limited - this would be a limited action that would not involve exposing military personnel to significant risk.

LOFGREN: I think that anyone who argues that shooting missiles and dropping bombs on another country is not an act of war has got some further education warranted. If somebody shot cruise missiles at Washington for only one day, we would still consider it an act of war, wouldn't we?

BLOCK: We did hear Secretary of State Kerry today calling the apparent chemical weapons attacks a crime against humanity. He says this matters to who we are.

LOFGREN: It also matters that we have a functioning democracy in this country. And to assume that the entire government, including the Congress, doesn't care about acts of violence is simply incorrect. I mean, the president himself, when he was running for office, made clear that it violated the law to initiate hostilities without complying with the War Powers Act, without getting a vote from the Congress, unless we've been attacked or are in danger of being attacked. It looks like there is some bungled effort to try and make the case that because there are chemical weapons in Syria, loathsome as that is, that that per se poses a threat to the United States. That is a stretch. That is not credible.

I think that if the president were to act without authority from his own government, in violation of American law, without U.N. authority, in violation of the request from the U.N. not to proceed without the support of the Arab League and without our closest ally, Great Britain, it would be a grave mistake.

BLOCK: Congresswoman Lofgren, thanks for being with us.

LOFGREN: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California.

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