The Congressional take on Syria

Syria is causing the U.N. Security Council members a diplomatic headache. In the U.S., it's causing a different debate about Congress's role in determining when the Commander-in-Chief can authorize military force.

Will Caron

Two letters from Congress to President Obama have been circulating. Both letters address the issue of using force against Syria, but the concern is not over the use of force itself. Members of Congress (mostly Republican members, but a growing number of Democrats too) are unhappy that the president is considering using force without seeking Congressional approval first.

“While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate – and the active engagement of Congress – prior to committing U.S. military assets,” wrote republican Scott Rigell in his letter (which has 140 signatures as of today, including 21 democrats).

The other letter was written by California democrat and former co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Barbara Lee. “Congress must assert our authority on this issue; that’s a bipartisan cause,” said Lee.

54 members of Congress have signed her letter, including Hawaii’s Rep., Tulsi Gabbard. Colleen Hanabusa, the other Hawaii Rep. has not signed either letter, along with many democrats who appear to be waiting to see what will happen next.

“Most members of Congress of both parties would prefer to sit it out,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon democrat. “If the president does well, they can say, ‘Gee we were there with him.’ If the president doesn’t do well, they can say, ‘We were against it.’”

“There is ferment out there — you just haven’t seen it yet,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). “If they fire rockets in there, you’ll see a lot of people saying this is an absolute mistake, they should not have done it, I do not support it. The storm will follow if [Obama] goes without having the backing of the Congress.”