18 House Dems Tell Obama: Congress Must Authorize Any Action in Syria

Terence P. Jeffrey | August 29, 2013 | 11:39pm EDT
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Rep. Rush Holt (D.-N.J.)

(CNSNews.com) - Eighteen Democrats in the House of Representatives have joined with 98 Republicans in signing a letter to President Barack Obama telling him he cannot constitutionally take military action in Syria without prior congressional authorization.

The signatories of this letter include not only some of the most outspoken liberals in the House—such as Rep. Jim McDermott (D.-Wash.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D.-Ore.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.)--but also some of the most outspoken conservatives.

“We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of military force in Syria,” said the letter signed by the 18 Democrats and 98 Republicans. “Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

“While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate—and the active engagement of Congress—prior to committing U.S. military assets,” the congressmen told the president. “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 18 Democratic and 98 Republican House members who signed this letter also told President Obama that he acted unconstitutionally when he unilaterally ordered U.S. military action in Libya in 2011 without congressional authorization.

“Mr. President, in the case of military operations in Libya you stated that authorization from Congress was not required because our military was not engaged in ‘hostilities,’” this House members wrote. “In addition, an April 1, 2011, memorandum to you from the Office of Legal Counsel concluded: ‘… President Obama could rely on his constitutional power to safeguard the national interest by directing the anticipated military operations in Libya—which were limited in their nature, scope and duration—without prior congressional authorization.'

“We view the precedent this opinion sets, where ‘national interest’ is enough to engage in hostilities without congressional authorization, as unconstitutional,” the bipartisan coalition told the president.

At the Constitutional Convention on Aug. 17, 1787, the delegates debated the language governing the war power and, according to the notes of the convention taken by James Madison, determined to give Congress control over when to initiate the use of military force except in those circumstances where the president would need to “repel sudden attacks.”

George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention, abided by this understanding of the war power when he served as the nation’s first president. "The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress,” he wrote in 1793, "therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure."

Rep. Scott Rigell (R.-Va.)--who served six years in the Marine Corps Reserves, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and who represents the congressional district that has the highest concentration of U.S. military personnel—organized the letter to Obama.

Among the House conservatives who have signed Rep. Rigell's letter are Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R.-Mich.), Rep. Matt Salmon (R.-Ariz.), Rep. Tom McClintock (R.-Calif.), Rep. Justin Amash (R.-Mich.), Rep. Joe Pitts (R.-Pa.), Rep. Trent Franks (R.-Ariz.), Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.C.), Rep. Louis Gohmert (R.-Texas), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R.-S.C.), Rep. Walter Jones, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R.-Texas), Rep. Tom Price (R.-Ga.), Rep. Steve Stockman (R.-Texas), Rep. Diane Black (R.- Tenn.), Rep. Lou Barletta (R.-Pa.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R.-Ohio) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tenn.).

The eighteen House Democrats who have signed the letter are: Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-.Ore.), Rep. Rush Holt (D.-N.J., Rep. William Enyart (D.-Ill.), Rep. Tim Walz (D.-Minn.), Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Rep. Richard Nolan (D.-Minn.), Rep. Jim McDermott (D.-Wash.), Rep. Bruce Braley (D.-Iowa), Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Rep. Ann Eshoo (D.-Calif.), Rep. David Loebsack (D.-La.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D.-Ore.), Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Rep. Jim Matheson (D.-Utah), Rep. Collin Peterson (D.-Minn.).

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