April 7, 2017
The images from Syria are heartbreaking. So many innocent people were brutally murdered with poisonous gas at the direction of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I do not dispute that Syria has again used chemical weapons against its own people in contravention of international law and morality, as well as its own assurances to the Security Council that it would not do so. I also share President Trump’s outrage about these atrocities.
Nonetheless, Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution is very clear that ONLY, “The Congress shall have Power … To declare war.” No President can unilaterally engage in an act of war. Certainly, an intentional missile strike against a sovereign state, no matter how horrendous its government may be, is an act of war.
A few weeks ago, when the Trump Administration announced the deployment of more U.S. troops into Syria, I began working with other Members of Congress on legislation requiring the President to seek Congressional authorization first. That bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1923 was filed on Wednesday. The missile strike occurred on Thursday. An interesting coincidence with unforeseen timing – but a clearly foreseeable situation.
What is done cannot be undone, but from this point forward the President must seek from Congress the authorization that our Constitution requires before he takes any further military action in Syria.
Some Members will not want to address the issue because it is complicated and politically sensitive. But there are extremely important questions to consider and the entire nation, through their elected Representatives, deserves to be included in the debate. Congress should not shirk this responsibility.
Congress must debate the future role of the United States in this conflict. There are many questions that require thoughtful debate. Here are just a few:
I am certain there are many other questions that need to be asked and answered – and I do not know what the outcome of this debate would be.
This has nothing to do with who occupies the Oval Office or whether they are a Democrat or a Republican. This is about the Constitution. In 2011, I was one of four Members of Congress who sued President Obama in an attempt to force him to seek Congressional approval for bombing Libya.
Less than four years ago, Trump was strongly opposed to intervention in Syria. In 2013, commenting on President Obama’s actions against ISIS in Syria, Donald Trump tweeted "The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!"
We live in a democracy, not a monarchy – no one person has the authority to bring us into any war for any reason absent imminent threat against the American people. This is precisely why Congress needs to step up, have this debate, and take a vote. H.R. 1923 must be brought to the floor and Congress must act responsibly.