Congress tries to slow down Obama's decision on US action in Syria
August 29, 2013
WASHINGTON — With the U.S. military poised to carry out strikes to punish the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad for alleged chemical weapons use in his country’s civil war, President Barack Obama’s seeming readiness to act is running into efforts by legislators here and abroad to slow him down.
Politicians in the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament on Wednesday pushed for more specifics on the intelligence the administration says established the guilt of the Syrian regime in Aug. 21 attacks that allegedly involved toxic gases near Damascus, which some observers say killed hundreds of people.
The administration reached out to the House and Senate Armed Services committees late Wednesday to schedule teleconference calls with the respective party leaders of both committees on Thursday, to brief them on the basis for potential action. In a PBS NewsHour interview Wednesday, Obama said he has not yet made a decision on U.S. action.
In a letter Wednesday from more than 100 House members, including 18 Democrats, the legislators told the president he has a responsibility to receive Congressional authorization before any strikes.
“Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution,” the letter said.
The legislators added Congress is ready to reconvene at the president’s request to “consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict.”
In a separate letter to the president, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the United States must respond strongly to Assad’s crossing of the “red line” on chemical weapons that Obama established last year, as warranting unspecified consequences.
While not specifically demanding congressional authorization for strikes, Boehner asked for clarification of the administration’s intelligence and objectives.
“It will take Presidential leadership and a clear explanation of our policy, our interests, and our objectives to gain public and Congressional support for any military action against Syria,” Boehner wrote.
Resistance from members of the British Parliament on Wednesday likewise forced Prime Minister David Cameron to hold off on a vote that could have authorized military action. Members said they wanted to see the intelligence on the chemical attacks, including findings from U.N. inspectors still at work in Syria, before voting.
Stars and Stripes reporter J.Taylor Rushing contributed to this story.