President Barack Obama must seek approval from Congress before the military starts lobbing cruise missiles into Syria, according to a bipartisan group of lawmakers that includes several House members from Nebraska and Iowa.
Reps. Lee Terry, R-Neb., Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and Tom Latham, R-Iowa, signed a letter Wednesday calling on Obama to get permission from Congress before hitting the “fire” button.
“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,” according to the at least 116 members who signed the letter, written by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.
The representatives offered to cut short their August recess so that lawmakers could return to Washington and consider the issues surrounding Syria.
“If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request,” they wrote.
Terry said he had yet to hear a clear White House strategy regarding Syria.
“The president must call Congress back to Washington so that we can have a debate worthy of the American people of whether or not we should be sending their sons and daughters into harm's way,” Terry said.
Latham also said that Obama should summon lawmakers back to Washington.
“Running an end-around the House, the Senate and the American people is not the right approach, and one that I hope the administration would not take,” he said.
But other legislators weren't going that far. Reps. Adrian Smith and Jeff Fortenberry, both Nebraska Republicans, decried the use of chemical weapons in Syria and called for Obama to consult Congress.
But they stopped short of insisting Obama get approval before starting military strikes. They did not sign the Rigell letter. Neither did Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
“It sounds as though the president is determined to kill some Syrians to send the message to Assad to stop killing Syrians,” King said in an interview.
He said he wasn't questioning the authority of the president to take action, but he said Obama would be better off bringing his case to Congress first.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., was traveling Wednesday, but his spokesman Nick Simpson indicated that the senator backs limited action in Syria.
“Sen. Johanns believes the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians is appalling and inexcusable,” Simpson said. “If a strategic, targeted response will curb such deplorable acts in the future, then he supports such a response to protect human rights.”
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said that although atrocities have occurred in Syria, Obama has failed to consult with her and other members on Capitol Hill. She said the president has yet to make the case for U.S. military intervention in Syria.
“Is there a direct threat to the United States? I don't think the president has been clear on that,” Fischer said.
She said she has been hearing from constituents the past few days who are concerned about the situation.
“Nebraskans, and I think all Americans, are pretty war-weary,” she said. “If there's not a plan out there, a mission that's explained to the American people, there's not going to be support here.”
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, expressed sympathy for the people of Syria and reservations about U.S. military action.
“While the atrocities are concerning,” he said, “we must ask ourselves if our country is prepared to enter into a third open-ended war in the Middle East — particularly after trillions of dollars and thousands of lives have been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”