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Trump's Missile Strikes in Syria Revive Debate on Congress' Role

  • Cindy Saine

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaks with the media at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, April 7, 2017.

President Donald Trump's decision to authorize cruise-missile strikes on a Syrian government air base has drawn rare bipartisan support from congressional leaders. However, a number of lawmakers from both parties also expressed concern, saying that if the president plans any escalation of military action, Congress has a constitutional role to play.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the "well-executed" action sent a powerful message to U.S. allies and adversaries that "you don't use chemical weapons without consequences."

The senator from Kentucky also suggested Trump's military action could have policy implications ranging beyond Syria: "America is back, in terms of playing a leadership role, and trying to be constructive in a variety of different places around the world." McConnell added that the cruise-missile raid could be read "as a message to Iran, and North Korea, and the Russians, that America intends to lead again."

Asked if he would counsel Trump to reconsider the ban on Syrian refugees in light of the atrocities civilians are facing, McConnell said he would not offer the president any advice on the subject.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., center, speaks to reporters following a briefing on Syria on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 7, 2017.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., center, speaks to reporters following a briefing on Syria on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 7, 2017.

Praise for Trump's decision

Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain put out a joint statement, saying: "Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action."

Several of the president's Democratic political opponents also spoke out in support of the missile attack.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the airstrikes "the right thing to do" in light of the Syrian military's alleged use of outlawed chemical weapons. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it "a proportional response," but she added that the president needs a comprehensive strategy for Syria. "The crisis in Syria will not be resolved by one night of airstrikes," she said.

FILE - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2017.
FILE - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2017.

U.S. military leaders said 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired into Syria from warships in the Mediterranean, targeting the Syrian government air base that they contend was responsible for dropping sarin nerve gas. The choking gas fell on a rebel-held area of Idlib province, killing at least 72 civilians, including women and children.

The Obama and Trump administrations have relied on Congress' authorization of military force following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States to carry out strikes against groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida. Obama asked Congress to pass an authorization of the use of military force, or AUMF, for the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State, but Congress did not. Now, some lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — are saying the strike Trump ordered against the Syrian government should be specifically authorized by Congress.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 7, 2017.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 7, 2017.

Criticism for strikes

Republican Senator Rand Paul strongly criticized the strikes, saying prior U.S. interventions in Middle East conflicts "have done nothing to make us safer."

"The president needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution," Paul said in a statement.

Senator Tim Kaine, the unsuccessful candidate for vice president last year, agreed: "There is no legal justification for this. [Trump] should not have done this without coming to Congress."

Congressman Thomas Massie, a Republican, tweeted: "Didn't the missile attack just make the situation better for [Islamic State]?"

The chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, gave a classified briefing to all members of the Senate and any remaining House members still at the Capitol before a recess Friday afternoon.

VOA’s Josh Fatzick contributed to this report.

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