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US Congress Divided on Syria Despite Administration Case for Action

  • Michael Bowman

U.S. lawmakers say they are far from unified on whether to vote for military strikes against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Legislators spoke after receiving a classified briefing on Syria from administration officials.

The full Congress does not return from recess until September 9. But several dozen lawmakers scrambled to get to Washington in time for Sunday’s closed-door briefing at the Capitol, in which the administration presented its case for intervention in Syria.

Afterwards, several lawmakers said they are convinced that chemical weapons were used. But questions remain, according to Democratic Congresswoman Janice Hahn. “Is this a reason to go to war? What are the objectives of going to war? What authorization are we actually giving our president?”

Hahn said the United States should not have to act alone. “Where is the international community," she said, "if this is such an outrage, if this is so abhorrent to everyone?”

Republican Congressman Scott Rigell praised the president’s decision to seek congressional approval, but said he is a “no” vote for now. “I am a ‘no’ because the clarity of where all of this goes, the definition of accomplishing the mission - that is still unclear to me," he said.

By contrast, Democratic Representative Sandy Levin backs military intervention in Syria. “I have confidence that members of Congress will step up to the plate [vote yes]. Because if we do nothing, it sends a very wrong message," he said.

On Saturday, President Obama said he does not need Congress’ permission to order a strike, but nevertheless wants the backing of the nation’s representatives in Washington.

Before Sunday’s classified briefing, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on multiple U.S. television programs to present what the administration has learned about last month’s deadly attacks on civilians in and around Damascus.

“Hair and blood samples that have come to us from individuals who were engaged as first responders in east Damascus - I can report to you today they have tested positive for signatures of sarin (the deadly nerve gas)," he said.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Kerry defended Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for military action. “We do not lose anything. We actually gain. And what we gain is the legitimacy of the full-throated response of the Congress of the United States and the president acting together after our democratic process has worked properly," he said.

Kerry said U.S. inaction would have the effect of “granting impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people.”