Many U.S. Lawmakers Want A Say On Taking Action In Syria : It's All Politics The Obama administration appears poised to attack Syria after concluding Bashar Assad's government used chemical weapons, but many members of Congress say they haven't been briefed enough about why military action is warranted. And their opinions about what to do in Syria are all over the map.
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Many U.S. Lawmakers Want A Say On Taking Action In Syria

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Many U.S. Lawmakers Want A Say On Taking Action In Syria

Many U.S. Lawmakers Want A Say On Taking Action In Syria

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And while the Obama administration continues to weigh its options with the international community, many members of Congress say they haven't been given enough information about why military action is warranted. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, opinions on what to do about Syria are all over the map. Many lawmakers say the president cannot proceed without first getting authorization from Congress.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: What's been irritating to a lot of lawmakers is that President Obama doesn't seem to be asking for their permission at all. But whether the president is legally required to seek congressional approval before launching cruise missiles into Syria is an issue that leaves even legal scholars furrowing their brows.

JESSE CHOPER: The Constitution doesn't give me any quick answer to this.

CHANG: Jesse Choper teaches constitutional law at the University of California, Berkeley.

CHOPER: It does say that Congress shall have the power to declare war. Well, the president would say, I am not declaring war, I am simply implementing foreign policy.

CHANG: There's a statute from 1973 called the War Powers Resolution, which forbids armed forces from fighting more than 60 days without congressional approval. But does that mean the president can unilaterally start military action basically any time he wants? Here's Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas on Fox News.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: The United States Armed Forces is not - doesn't exist to be a policeman for the world. And I certainly hope the reaction isn't simply lobbing some cruise missiles in to disagree with Assad's murderous actions.

CHANG: If you want a Supreme Court case clarifying the president's powers as commander-in-chief, legal experts say good luck. The cases that really deal with that question date back to the mid-19th century. So lawmakers have been spending this week offering their own constitutional interpretations.

REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT RIGELL: Look, I say this respectfully, but it is not the king's army.

CHANG: Republican Scott Rigell of Virginia has gotten dozens of House members to sign onto a letter demanding the president ask for the official blessing of Congress before attacking Syria. Some House and Senate members have been briefed by the president, but Rigell says more should be included, even if it means reconvening Congress during its summer recess.

RIGELL: He has both the time and the obligation to come before Congress, and if he truly believes that the use of force is both warranted and imminent, present that information to us, allow us a reasonable but short period to deliberate it. And in my view, that could be even a period of hours.

CHANG: But whether Congress could come to a cohesive position on the proper response to Syria seems doubtful, if you've been watching any TV this week. Republican Peter King of New York, who is on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN the image of the White House is at stake.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING: There's more of a concern here that we lose our credibility if we don't act, in view of how strongly President Obama has warned Syria in the past not to use chemical weapons.

CHANG: But Republican Senator John McCain told Fox News what the U.S. should really be focused on is changing the actual balance of power in the civil war, something the administration has said it's not interested in doing right now.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: If we do it right, and reverse the momentum here, I think that it could really have an effect in the eventual overthrow of a person who is clearly now a war criminal.

CHANG: Even members who believe it's enough to just focus on removing the chemical weapons say missile strikes won't solve the problem. Here's Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of California, who's also on the House Intelligence Committee.

REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES: To do the job right we would have to have American troops, or coalition forces, on the ground in order to secure the chemical weapons.

CHANG: But at the moment the White House seems reluctant to commit any boots on the ground. The missile strikes may last only a few days, at most, possibly ending before Congress even gets back from its summer break. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

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