Members of Congress Respond to Trump’s Unconstitutional Strikes in Syria
Last Updated on February 2, 2021.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA): While Bashar al-Assad must be held accountable for his unlawful use of chemical weapons against civilians, the strikes that are being carried out are being done without an authorization from Congress, which is unacceptable.
In April of 2017, when the Trump Administration first carried out strikes against Syrian forces in response to the use of chemical weapons, I said that additional action required an authorization from Congress. Despite being in office for fifteen months, the Administration has not taken steps to outline a comprehensive strategy for Syria. Further, the Administration has failed to request an authorization from Congress for further military action against Assad’s regime.
There is no purely military solution to the Syrian conflict. What’s needed is a diplomatic plan to bring an end to this crisis and hold the Syrian government, the Russians and the Iranians fully accountable for their conduct.
The Administration should work towards a political solution that meets the legitimate expectations of the Syrian people and leads to a constitution, elections, rule of law and functioning government ministries. Continued violence in Syria creates a safe haven for terrorists and emboldens our adversaries, Iran and Russia. Sporadic missile strikes and saber rattling on Twitter by President Trump is not a strategy.
The Administration should seek an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) by Congress if it wants to continue to military actions against Syrian forces – the same way President Obama sought authorization in 2013 in a similar circumstance involving Syria.
Beyond the immediate situation in Syria, it’s time for a sustained debate and vote on a new AUMF that allows our nation to destroy terrorists and fight threats to U.S. national security, but doesn’t result in endless war. The 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, which authorized military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, are outdated and must be replaced.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI): Bashar al-Assad has again used chemical weapons against his own people. This is another atrocity and breach of international law, and the international community must hold him accountable. [1/4] While today’s action was taken in concert with France and Great Britain, the President stated that ‘we are prepared for a sustained response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.’ [2/4] I am deeply concerned by the President’s incoherent strategy in this critically important area of the world where there are layers of complexity and no easy answers. [3/4] If the President is going to shift our mission in Syria, he needs to come to Congress for authorization and explain exactly what his strategy is, and how it supports U.S. national security interests and ends the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe and refugee crisis.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA): Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria without Congress’s approval is illegal. We need to stop giving presidents a blank check to wage war. Today it’s Syria, but what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?
Sen. Angus King (I-ME): “The international community cannot and must not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. They have been out of bounds – even in wartime with a few notable exceptions – for 100 years, since World War One, because of the horror they inflict on the victims. Following the President’s announcement tonight, I am hopeful our response to the Assad Regime’s use of chemical weapons is carefully calibrated, and would stress that our actions must be coordinated with our international partners. My concern remains that any action that is not carefully targeted and coordinated could result in an unintended escalation of this conflict from a civil war to an expanded international struggle. We have many servicemembers in the Middle East and must always keep them in our thoughts during these dangerous times. Finally, Congress must take on a larger role in this decision making, as it is incumbent upon our nation’s legislative body to authorize the use of military force. As we move forward in the days ahead, I will continue to push for a more comprehensive strategy in Syria – as I did with the Obama Administration – and urge the current administration to work closely with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and our partners around the world to help resolve this troubling conflict.”
[Official Press Statement – 4/131/18]
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT): My thoughts and prayers are with the American service men and women in harms way tonight. I look forward to hearing from the President about his strategy for Syria and whether he plans to seek authorization from Congress for any further use of force.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA): Tonight’s U.S. military strikes on Syrian government targets are neither constitutional nor wise,” said Senator Markey. “Attacks such as this on another country without Congressional authorization are unconstitutional, and they push the United States closer to what could be an interminable, all-out conflict in Syria.
Although Bashar al-Assad’s murder of innocent Syrian civilians by poison gas is barbaric, President Trump’s response – carried out this way – will do nothing to deter future chemical weapons use, nor help end the Syrian civil war.
There is no Congressional authorization for the use of military force against Syrian government targets. And as we saw during President Trump’s cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase last year in retaliation for their earlier use of chemical weapons, the attack was neither operationally, nor strategically, successful. A year later, President Trump has yet to articulate a cogent strategy outlining U.S. interests and objectives in Syria, much less how to achieve them. Absent a robust diplomatic process, military strikes will not change Assad’s calculus regarding the use of chemical weapons against his own people.
President Trump has failed to launch a multi-faceted diplomatic process in Syria and appears ready to repeat that failure again. Holding Russia, Iran, and Syria accountable for their support for the continuing civil war does not require military force. Instead of implementing mandatory sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress, the President let Russia escape culpability for its protection of the murderous regime in Damascus.
“Only diplomatic engagement, not military escalation, will end the Syrian civil war, which should be the ultimate goal in the region.
[Official Press Statement – 4/13/18]
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR): Bashar al-Assad has carried out a brutal campaign of attacks on his own people. The use of chemical weapons is unconscionable and he must be held accountable. But military action is not the only tool we have. If President Trump is going to use military force he must seek congressional authorization. The power to make war rests with Congress in Article I of the Constitution. We have learned in Afghanistan and Iraq the dangers of launching military actions without clearly articulated objectives and exit strategies. If the President wants to wage war, the American people and Congress need to be part of that decision.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ): The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons. Tonight’s announcement of airstrikes in Syria in cooperation with the British and French military underscores the importance of partners and alliances in achieving shared objectives.
But we should be clear: military strikes are no substitute for a real strategy.
While we are still learning the details about these strikes, the Administration has not provided sufficient details about its military plans. The President has asserted authority under Article II of the Constitution for these strikes, but any sustained military action in Syria would require Congressional authorization. I expect the Trump Administration to promptly brief Congress on these strikes, their plan for Syria, including countering Russian and Iranian support for the regime, and any future use of military force.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT): [excerpts from his Medium post] We need reconcile that now is the time for the U.S. to complete our mission against ISIS inside Syria, then pull back our military effort and focus on participating in a diplomatic process by which this war can be brought to a conclusion…
Importantly, no strategy can succeed in Syria without a surge in humanitarian and refugee relief. One of the cruelest aspects of this weekend’s bombing campaign is that it continues a U.S. policy under President Trump to bomb foreign nations, helping to create humanitarian nightmares, while locking people inside by refusing to allow refugees to come to the United States. Trump’s antipathy for humanitarian assistance hurts the most in Syria.
America has accepted a grand total of 11 Syrian refugees this year. That is unconscionable, and if President Trump really cares about the suffering of the Syrian people, he wouldn’t bomb them — he would rescue them, with a robust refugee program and massive humanitarian relief.
Finally, and probably most importantly, President Trump’s strikes are not legal. He does not have congressional permission to take military action against Syria as is required by the Constitution. The precedent that Trump has set by taking out another large-scale strike without prior public debate should scare every Member of Congress and every American. What restrains Trump from launching an attack on North Korea without getting Congressional authorization if he gets away with this attack in Syria?
American foreign policy needs to be driven by what will get results and what is legal, not by what satisfies our primal instincts of revenge. Last night’s strike is constitutionally illegal and also strategically counterproductive, and I oppose it.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI): The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and a violation of international law. Their use is not something to ignore.
We need more information to determine the scope and effectiveness of this action. There are also significant and complicated questions with respect to the legal justification for tonight’s strikes.
President Trump’s impulsive tweets boxed him in. Isolated punitive action is no replacement for a comprehensive strategy designed to bring about an end to the conflict in Syria – the only thing that will truly bring relief to the Syrian people.
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.
Put simply, the American people need to hear an actual strategy and an actual legal justification. Congress has a constitutional duty and I hope the majority permits appropriate hearings and briefings.”
[Official Press Statement – 4/13/18]
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): “It is Congress, not the president, which has the constitutional responsibility for making war. The international community must uphold the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, but it is unclear how President Trump’s illegal and unauthorized strikes on Syria tonight will achieve that goal. After 17 years of war in Afghanistan and 15 years of war in Iraq, we need a political strategy to bring peace and stability to the region, not more U.S. military intervention.”
[Official Press Release – 04/13/18]
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Chemical attacks in Syria are horrifying, and a clear violation of international law. The world must hold Assad accountable for his violence against the Syrian people – and the US should be part of a planned, coordinated multilateral effort.(1/2)
The Constitution gives Congress the power to authorize military action. If @realDonaldTrump wants to expand American military involvement in Syria’s civil war, he must seek approval from Congress – & provide a comprehensive strategy with clear goals & a plan to achieve them.(2/2)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM): Assad’s violence is horrendous, & he must be held to account by the international community for the many thousands of his fellow Syrians he has murdered. But @POTUS is dangerously escalating the situation in #Syria by acting w/ no legal authority & no consistent, thoughtful plan. This isn’t reality TV — tough talk with no long-term strategy puts the Syrian people, American troops, and our allies in danger. The U.S can’t afford to be dragged deeper into the Syrian civil war, and doing so risks a great power conflict. Sporadic strikes aren’t in our national security interest & haven’t sent Assad running-they have emboldened him. We can’t afford endless war in the region. Military action won’t solve the conflict in #Syria; that will take diplomatic engagement in the region & w/ Assad’s allies.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI): Witness the hypocrisy that our two-party system breeds: Check out these similar letters warning the president about commencing offensive strikes against Syria without congressional approval.
2013 signers: 119 Rs, 21 Ds
2018 signers: 15 Rs, 73 Ds
Very few of us signed both.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): “President Trump’s decision to launch military strikes against the Syrian regime – without congressional input or authorization – shows a contempt for the U.S Constitution and is without legal justification. The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government against innocent civilians is heinous. I fully support all international accountability mechanisms to prosecute these war crimes and to negotiate a political solution to the war in Syria. But as we’ve seen over the last 16 years, we cannot bomb our way to peace.
“This is not a dictatorship. Congress, not the president, is responsible for debating and authorizing military action. By illegally bombing a sovereign nation, President Trump has once again denied the American people and Congress any oversight or accountability in these endless wars.
“And Congress is not without blame. We have once again failed to do our jobs and debate the costs and consequences of war. I call on Speaker Ryan to hold a debate and vote on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force prior to any additional military action in Syria.”