WASHINGTON — House and Senate lawmakers generally supported President Donald Trump’s decision to strike against the Syrian government Thursday night, but cautioned Trump against unilaterally starting another war in the Middle East without first consulting Congress.
A pair of defense hawks — Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — who have frequently been critical of Trump, roundly praised the President’s decision.
“Acting on the orders of their commander-in-chief, they have sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs,” McCain and Graham said in a joint statement. “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.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan called the US military action “appropriate and just.”
“These tactical strikes make clear that the Assad regime can no longer count on American inaction as it carries out atrocities against the Syrian people,” Ryan said in a statement.
“I look forward to the administration further engaging Congress in this effort,” said Ryan, one of several lawmakers to say they wanted to hear more from the White House.
The strikes are sure to amplify calls in Congress for a vote to authorize military action in Syria.
Many Democrats and some Republicans argue that Trump does not have the authority to launch strikes against the Assad regime.
The Obama administration and now the Trump administration rely on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to strike ISIS in Syria, but those lawmakers argue that doesn’t apply to Assad.
In 2013, President Barack Obama went to Congress before he would launch strikes against Assad, and the effort ultimately fizzled.
Most legislation for a war authorization introduced by lawmakers in recent years has dealt with ISIS, but the proposals are likely to be tweaked to address the Assad regime.
Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican who has frequently questioned military intervention, warned Trump in a string of tweets Thursday night that Congress must approve new action in the region.
“While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked. The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution. Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer and Syria will be no different,” Paul wrote.
Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican and member of the House Freedom Caucus, also called for congressional action.
“Airstrikes are an act of war. Atrocities in Syria cannot justify departure from Constitution, which vests in Congress power to commence war,” Amash tweeted.
“Framers of Constitution divided war powers to prevent abuse. Congress to declare war; president to conduct war and repel sudden attacks,” Amash added in a second tweet.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, praised “the professionalism and skill of of our Armed Forces.”
“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do,” Schumer said, before adding, “It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said the strike “may deter” Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
“Nevertheless, this missile strike and the military action of our forces already in Syria, have yet to be authorized by Congress,” Schiff said. “Congress cannot abdicate its responsibility any longer and should vote on any use of force not made in self defense. This is necessary whether action is taken against terrorist groups or, as here, against regime capabilities.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said Congress must end its two-week break, which for the House started Thursday, to return to Washington and weigh in on military action.
“This is an act of war. Congress needs to come back into session & hold a debate. Anything less is an abdication of our responsibility,” Lee tweeted.