President Trump’s decision to launch a missile strike against the Syrian government Thursday won tentative approval from some Republican and Democratic lawmakers, even as many called for more Congressional oversight of military actions.
The response to the White House-directed attack on Syria — a retaliation against the beleaguered Middle Eastern nation for using chemical weapons this week against civilians — cut across party lines.
Top-ranking lawmakers in both parties applauded the missile strike. “Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “This action was appropriate and just,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Defense hawks who have long called for action against Syria said the President was justified in striking Bashar Assad’s government forces in Homs.
Republican members of Congress had attacked former President Obama for drawing a “red line” over Syria’s use of chemical weapons in 2013 and then not adhering to it. Thursday’s attack was the retaliation they had been waiting for; it was the first American military strike against the Assad regime.
“Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action. For that, he deserves the support of the American people,” said Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a joint statement. “We salute the skill and professionalism of the U.S. Armed Forces who carried out tonight’s strikes in Syria.”
“By acting decisively against the very facility from which Assad launched his murderous chemical weapons attack, President Trump has made it clear to Assad and those who empower him that the days of committing war crimes with impunity are over,” said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
But in both parties, there were numerous members who also called for Congress’ input. Under the Constitution, Congress has the power to declare war; an array of Republican and Democratic lawmakers called on President Trump to seek authorization for further action from Congress.
“The President needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate,” said Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
“If the President intends to escalate the U.S. military’s involvement in Syria, he must to come to Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force which is tailored to meet the threat and prevent another open-ended war in the Middle East,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, even as she applauded the action.
Congress authorized military action in Iraq and Afghanistan but not in Libya under President Obama in 2011, which put former President Obama at odds with some in his own party. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) criticized Obama for not asking Congress to authorize military force against ISIS.
“Assad is a brutal dictator who must be held account for atrocities. But the President’s failure to seek congressional approval is unlawful,” Kaine tweeted.
Others questioned the President’s long-term strategy in Syria. “We cannot stand by in silence as dictators murder children with chemical weapons,” said Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Steve Russell (R-OK), both Iraq War veterans, in a joint statement. “But military action without clear goals and objectives gets us nowhere.”
For members of Congress who have wanted to see more decisive action against the Syrian regime for some time, Thursday’s attack was an ambivalent answer to their calls.
“While I’m encouraged that the Trump Administration has felt compelled to act forcefully in Syria against the Assad regime, I’m gravely concerned that the United States is engaging further militarily in Syria without a well-thought-out, comprehensive plan,” said Sen. Chris Coons of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.