President Obama sent House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the president of the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden, draft legislation for authorization of the use of the U.S. Armed Forces in a Syria strike.
The draft was delivered Saturday evening, after Obama’s Rose Garden announcement that he would seek approval from Congress and after his post-announcement golf game at Fort Belvoir with Biden.
The resolution brands the chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb “flagrant actions… in violation of international norms and the laws of war,” states “the conflict in Syria will only be resolved through a negotiated political settlement,” and adds “unified action by the legislative and executive branches will send a clear signal of American resolve.”
The meat of the legislation states “the president is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to (1) prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or (2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.”
Debate on the measure is expected to begin after Congress returns from recess on Sept. 9, though hearings and briefings will be held earlier.
Members of Congress lauded Obama’s announcement while giving early indications on how they would vote.
“I believe the use of military force against Syria is both justified and necessary. I believe the United States has a moral obligation as well as a national security interest in defending innocent lives against such atrocities, and in enforcing international norms such as the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons. Assad must be held accountable for his heinous acts, and the world looks to us for leadership,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
“The Senate will engage in this critical debate right away, beginning with public hearings and briefings for members next week,” he added.
The draft heads to the Foreign Relations Committee, where Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) will convene hearings with administration officials next week. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) will hold both classified and non-classified briefings for members next week at which they’ll be able to ask questions of national security officials.
“Following the hearings and briefings, the full Senate will convene and debate a resolution authorizing the use of limited military force against Syria. The Senate will vote on the resolution no later than the week of September 9th, as requested by the Obama administration. This will provide ample time for a robust public debate, while ensuring that this critical issue receives a vote in a timely fashion,” Reid said.
Senate President Pro Tempore and Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) commended Obama’s decision while throwing snark at his predecessors.
“I continue to oppose introducing U.S. troops into this conflict, and I continue to believe that seeking congressional approval of military action is called for,” Leahy said. “Given the positions taken by past presidents, the president’s decision to seek congressional approval is especially commendable.”
Menendez said his committee’s first hearing will be the day after Labor Day.
“Senior administration witnesses will testify before the Committee and the Congress will debate this issue actively, fully, and publicly,” the senator said. “It is my view that the use of military force in Syria is justified and necessary given the Assad regime’s reprehensible use of chemical weapons and gross violation of international law. I look forward to sharing these views with my colleagues in the days ahead as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convenes to take up this vital national security issue.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) urged his colleagues to “consider both the intelligence assessments underlying the president’s determination and the U.S. national security implications of action or inaction before arriving at a position.”
“For two years, the Iranian-backed Syrian regime has been free to engage in the slaughter of its own people with little but rhetorical responses from the United States,” Rogers continued. “Now that the regime has crossed our red line regarding the use of chemical weapons, we must carefully consider whether the credibility of the United States necessitates military action to enforce that position. We must also consider what message a failure to act would send to other adversaries and our allies around the world. And finally, we must debate whether a decision by Congress denying the President authority to respond with military force would fulfill U.S. national security interests.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said “the administration’s Syria policy has been incoherent, and there are many unanswered questions.”
“The president will need to make his case to the American public and Congress,” said Royce.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said “authorization for the use of force in this case should be contingent on the president setting clear military objectives that can meet articulated policy goals, including degrading any party’s ability to use these weapons again.”
“The coming days will determine if such a military operation can be identified,” he added.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) simply said “this is the most important decision any president or any senator must make, and it deserves vigorous debate.” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said “there may be a variety of ways, some military and some not, to show our disgust with the Syrian government’s apparent use of chemical weapons against its own people.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said, “I need to hear more from the president as to why he believes it is in the best interests of the United States to intervene in Syria’s bloody and complicated civil war.”
Levin said he “again urged the president to use this time to help the Syrian people defend themselves by assisting vetted elements of the Syrian opposition in obtaining more effective weapons such as anti-tank weapons.”
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) chided her colleagues for not coming back from recess sooner.
“Congress is not due to reconvene until a week after Labor Day, on September 9, because Rosh Hashanah occurs next week. However, the Jewish holiday does not begin until sundown on Wednesday, September 4. Congress could come in Tuesday, September 3, the day after Labor Day for a two-day debate and vote,” Norton said.
“With what I know now, I am not prepared to say if yet another military action would be effective,” she added. “At the very least, congressional debate is necessary to answer a host of questions, particularly whether a military strike is the only available response and whether a military strike would lead to greater unrest in the already troubled Middle East. There is a steep hill to climb before engaging in a humanitarian war where the national security of the United States is not implicated.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he’s hopping on a plane Sunday to head back to Washington, but his written statement indicated some senators and staff might still be in a recess fog.
“As I have said before, there is simply no justification to use chemical weapons against fellow humans,” Begich said. “And that is why I remain hopeful that we can see a unified, international response to al-Hassad [sic] and his regime.”