Does Obama Need Congressional Approval On Syria?

Nearly 200 members of Congress have signed letters insisting that the president submit plans for any military strike in Syria for authorization. Host Scott Simon talks with Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, who has signed one of the letters.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Obama faces opposition over any military strike in Syria in opinion polls, from member of Congress, from both parties. Nearly 200 representatives have signed two separate letters to the President insisting that Congress should authorize any action or, like the British parliament, not authorize it. Representative Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state signed one of those letters.

Mr. McDermott, thanks so much for joining us.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM MCDERMOTT: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Do you want Congress to have the chance to approve military action, or the chance to stop what your letter calls an unwise war?

MCDERMOTT: Well, Scott, my history with the Congress is I remember Bill Clinton going into Sudan and Afghanistan back in 1998. I remember Colon Powell talking us to the United Nations. I think that these issues require the Congress to be fully involved in deciding on something that really is no threat to the United States.

If there was an imminent threat, I would say absolutely the President should decide and go. But this is not an issue where there is any imminent threat and therefore it ought to be thought through very carefully because I always expect Murphy's Law will take over, the law of unintended consequences and this is a very complicated situation, with Russia and with Iran, and I'm really afraid of a much wider war being created, accidentally perhaps as much as anything. But Congress ought to have signed off on it and said, yep, that's what we want to go do.

SIMON: President Obama spoke yesterday about what he believes is the United States having a moral responsibility in Syria to the world to prevent the use of chemical weapons and, for that matter, to demonstrate to Iran that there are red lines in U.S. policy. How do you feel about that?

MCDERMOTT: Well, it's certainly nobody condones with Assad did to his own people, if that's what, in fact, happened. I would like to see the evidence. But no one condones that, but the fact is what do you do effectively to stop it? It's already happened. The question then is are you going to just make some meaningless gesture where you throw in 50 tomahawk missiles and hit collateral damage everywhere?

What do you expect to be the result next Thursday if you strike tomorrow? What will it be like in Syria on Thursday? What's your goal? And that's what we haven't heard from the President.

SIMON: Mr. McDermott, when you say I want to see the evidence, does that mean you were not convinced by the evidence that Secretary Kerry presented on Friday and to which the President alluded?

MCDERMOTT: I didn't see and hear all of that, so I really, I think the Congress should be called in, it should be presented to them - everyone - not just to a selected few at the top who may or may not have the President's best interest. You know, you've got people right now who want to run us into bankruptcy for political power and I'm not sure that they're very good judges. So I really want to have everyone have a shot, and understanding us. We all represent 700,000 people and I believe that it is our job to declare war, and that's really what this is in my view.

SIMON: Mr. McDermott, you talked about the possible consequences of U.S. action. Are there consequences for doing nothing too?

MCDERMOTT: Well, we have already eroded, I think, our moral authority in this whole thing by waiting so long. If we were going to do something, if we were really trying to change the situation in Syria, we should have acted long ago. Having done this, the event is now occurred; I don't know that we're any worse off if we don't do anything. I think we really need to discuss that and be convinced that we have to make some kind of gesture because we're not going to put troops on the ground, we're not going to invade, we're not going to do what we did in Iraq. So what is it we're going to do?

SIMON: Representative Jim McDermott of Washington state. Thanks so much for being with us.

MCDERMOTT: My pleasure.

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