A handful of lawmakers from Minnesota are among bipartisan members of Congress wanting President Obama to consult with them before launching any attack on Syria.
More than half of Minnesota’s House delegation has signed on to letters asking Obama to seek congressional approval before authorizing such a strike, a possibility that emerged this week after evidence pointed to a chemical attack by the Syrian government against citizens within the civil war-torn country.
The first letter, circulated by a Republican, asks Obama to consider the War Powers Act, which directs the president to gain congressional approval before engaging in military hostilities. Some lawmakers have said Obama disregarded the law in 2011 when launching air strikes in support of rebels in Libya (the White House interprets the law differently) and worry he might do the same in Syria.
“If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request,” the letter said. “We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict.”
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and three Minnesota Democrats — Reps. Rick Nolan, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz — signed that letter, as did 112 other House members.
Nolan put out a statement Wednesday asking Obama to recall Congress to consult them if hostilities appeared imminent, as Great Britain did on Thursday. (Congress is scheduled to return from its August recess on Sept. 9.)
A group of more than 50 Democrats, including Nolan and Rep. Keith Ellison, wrote Obama on Thursday asking him to go to Congress before launching a strike.
“Congress must fully debate and consider the facts and every alternative, as well as determine how best to end the violence and protect civilians,” the letter said. “We stand ready to work with you.”
Obama officials held a Syria conference call with several congressional leaders on Thursday night (although no Minnesotans).
At a press briefing, a White House spokesperson called the outreach “robust consultation.” He said there would be further conversations with lawmakers. He said he was not “ruling out future briefings that might include every member of Congress” but would not say whether Obama planned a military strike before Congress returns to D.C.
Military strike divides delegation
Of course, if Obama determined Congress should get a vote, there’s a real chance lawmakers could oppose any attack, as the British Parliament did Thursday. After the vote, Britain announced it wouldn’t participate in any potential Syria attack.
Several lawmakers have already ruled out supporting such a response, including Bachmann and Nolan, who have worked together on Syria issues before. Bachmann told the St. Cloud Times the U.S. should steer clear of the Syrian civil war, that neither the Bashar al-Assad regime nor the rebels fighting him would be beneficial U.S. allies if they prevail.
But both Minnesota senators told Minnesota Public Radio a chemical attack in Syria required some type of response. Sen. Al Franken told MPR he didn’t think Obama needed to consult Congress before launching a strike.
“This cannot be allowed to stand,” he said. “Now, this again is not about another land war in the Middle East. This is about a strike that is going to either use cruise missiles or bombers, so this is not about U.S. troops on the ground.”
Others still say they’re waiting for more information.
After recounting an eerie 2009 meeting with al-Assad in Syria, Walz told the Rochester Post-Bulletin he didn’t have enough info to either support or oppose a strike against the country and that “there cannot be a rush to judgment on this.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry