Washington • While denouncing Syria‘s chemical attacks against its own citizens, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are raising concerns that President Donald Trump needs to seek congressional authority to continue any military response in the country.
Three members of Utah’s federal delegation have joined calls for Trump to lay out a strategy and come before Congress to seek the power to engage militarily in Syria or elsewhere.
“No president of the United States, no matter party or political ideology, has the authority to unilaterally start a war,” said Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who has taken the same stand previously under Trump and then-President Barack Obama.
“While the president has the authority under the War Powers Act to respond when the U.S. is under attack or in imminent danger, such circumstances did not exist with regard to Syria,” Lee continued. “Promoting regional stability, mitigating humanitarian catastrophe and deterring the use of chemical weapons might be important foreign policy goals, but if they are to be pursued with military force, a president must first seek congressional authorization.”
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, signed a letter with nearly 100 House members, Republicans and Democrats, that made the same point.
“While the founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies,” the letter reads, “they foresaw the need to ensure public debate — and the active engagement of Congress — prior to committing U.S. military assets.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican and former Air Force major, said in limited circumstances the president has the authority to call for airstrikes, but that extends only so far.
“I also believe that the president would need further authority from Congress were he intending to commit ground troops or other U.S. military personnel for any extended action,” Stewart said.
Even some of the more hawkish members of Congress said the president must coordinate a strategy to respond to the use of chemical weapons, the internal strife in Syria and actions by the so-called Islamic State.
“To succeed in the long run, we need a comprehensive strategy for Syria and the entire region,” said Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The president needs to lay out our goals, not just with regard to ISIS, but also the ongoing conflict in Syria and malign Russian and Iranian influence in the region.”
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on that Senate panel, said after Friday’s airstrikes, that Trump’s “impulsive tweets [after Syria’s reported chemical attack] boxed him in” and required a military response but that isolated action is not going to bring an end to conflict in the region.
“Over the last year, President Trump has marginalized the efforts of our diplomatic personnel while pursuing military operations that are disassociated from any broader Syria-specific or regional strategy,” Reed said. “Put simply, the American people need to hear an actual strategy and an actual legal justification.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hasn’t said whether he believes the president needs Congress’ consent — Hatch’s office didn’t respond to questions on that front — though he praised Trump for taking action against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The response, deliberated meticulously with international partners and carried out with their backing and participation,” Hatch said in a statement, “reflects the president’s commitment to restoring America’s leadership in bringing Assad and his backers to justice.”