What if Congress Doesn’t Approve Syrian Airstrikes?

by Jim Geraghty

The last Morning Jolt of the week looks at Cory Booker, my comments on liberty and privacy at Heritage, what makes a “bad person,” and this key question:

What Is the Consequence of a War Without Congressional Authorization?

Call me schizophrenic. Call me an extremist. You can recall that I’m supportive of airstrikes to punish Syrian dictator Bashir Assad for using chemical weapons — as long as we’re sure that his side used the chemical weapons and he ordered the launch.

But if a president were to A) take military action against Syria, without seeking a resolution authorizing military action, or B) Congress rejected the resolution, but he went ahead anyway . . . 

Would that be grounds for impeachment?

Probably not. There’s some precedent for this sort of thing:

The War Powers Resolution passed by Congress in 1973 requires that the president seek consent from Congress before force is used, or within 60 days of the start of hostilities. It also says the president must provide Congress with reports throughout the conflict.

Since 1973, the United States has used military force in Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Iraq in 1991, Haiti in 1994 and Kosovo in 1999. In all those instances, presidents — both Democrats and Republicans — sidestepped Congress and committed U.S. military forces without obtaining congressional approval.

I think CNN is wrong above when it mentions the Persian Gulf War. Perhaps they meant Somalia?

Congress did, however, provide President George W. Bush with its approval for the war in Iraq in 2002 and the war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Now, House Republicans lead the calls for President Barack Obama to convene a joint session of Congress to lay out his case to the lawmakers and the American people. Some in both parties demand a vote before any military strikes occur.

More than 90 members of Congress, most of them Republican, have signed a letter to the president urging him “to consult and receive authorization” before authorizing any such military action, according to the office of GOP Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia.

Meanwhile, 54 House Democrats mostly representing the party’s progressive wing sent Obama a letter Thursday that said “we strongly urge you to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis.”

It is not good to have laws on the books that are optional.

On the other hand, public opinion is pretty united:

Fifty percent of Americans say they oppose the United States taking military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and nearly eight-in-10 believe President Barack Obama should receive congressional approval before using any force, according to a new NBC News poll.

What’s more,

a whopping 79 percent of respondents — including nearly seven-in-10 Democrats and 90 percent of Republicans — say the president should be required to receive congressional approval before taking any action.

Obama may not realize it, but his presidency’s in a precarious position here:

The NBC also shows that President Obama’s overall job-approval rating has dropped one point since last month to 44 percent, which is tied for his lowest mark in the survey.

He gets even lower marks on foreign policy: Just 41 percent approve of his handling of the issue — an all-time low.

And only 35 percent approve of his handling of the situation in Syria.