House Republicans have a message for President Obama: Don’t attack Syria without congressional authorization.
With the experience of the NATO campaign in Libya still seared in House members’ minds, they are determined to wage a preemptive campaign this time to insist that President Obama is required by the Constitution to receive approval from Congress.
“Conservatives in the House are incensed that President Obama is considering military action without the authorization of the Congress,” says a House Republican aide. “This action would be a direct violation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973.”
Representative Scott Rigell, a second-term Republican congressman from Virginia, decided last weekend to write a letter insisting Obama seek congressional authorization before taking any military action in Syria. The letter, released this week, has attracted signatures from 140 House members, including 21 Democrats.
Some disagree, however: Representative Peter King (R., N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security committee’s subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told National Review Online earlier this week, “I think the president, as a commander in chief, has the right to take action without getting approval from Congress.”
Rigell highlights the military action in Libya as a clear violation of the War Powers Act.
“[Obama] spent more than $1 billion of taxpayer money,” Rigells says in an interview. “He launched more than 40 Hellfire missiles, more than 220 Tomahawk cruise missiles . . . into Libya and said that it didn’t rise in the level of hostilities that trigger the War Powers Resolution.”
“This is a gross abuse of the English language,” Rigell adds.
Rigell says it is “terrific” that President Obama talked to Speaker Boehner in a call last night. But he says that’s not nearly enough.
“That is no substitute,” he stresses. “It is not in any way a substitute for receiving . . . a definitive statute authority, for example a joint resolution in the House and Senate, passed with a majority vote in each body, prior to the launch of anything.”
The House GOP’s leadership is playing a little more coy on the issue of whether Obama needs to have congressional authorization before taking action in Syria or not. In a statement this afternoon, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said, “As we have said, if the president believes this information makes a military response imperative, it is his responsibility to explain to Congress and the American people the objectives, strategy, and legal basis for any potential action. “
Rigell wants Boehner to directly state that Obama needs congressional authorization before attacking Libya, something Boehner so far has avoided doing.
Boehner should declare, Rigell says, “Let’s be clear, prior to the use and engagement of military force, Mr. President, you have the opportunity and indeed the duty, you are required by the Constitution to seek and obtain statutory authority.’”
A leadership aide stresses that telling Obama congressional authorization is needed is an option that remains on the table. “He hasn’t [done it]. He certainly hasn’t ruled it out, either,” the aide says.
There is also a sense that if the shoe was on the other foot, Obama would agree with the need for congressional authorization.
“I can’t help but believe,” a House aide remarks, “that even Senator Obama wouldn’t approve of the actions of President Obama right about now.”