Senators disagree over military response to Syria -- and Trump's legal authority to wage it

As President Donald Trump asse...

Posted: Apr 10, 2018 11:57 AM
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 11:57 AM

As President Donald Trump assesses how to respond to the alleged chemical attack in Syria that killed and maimed dozens of civilians, lawmakers disagreed Monday what an appropriate response should be and whether Trump needed their authorization before acting.

"I think we need to take some surgical military strikes against Syria," said Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who chairs the influential Foreign Relations Committee. "Something for a heavy price to be paid."

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut warned against it.

"Let's be clear, these pinprick strikes have not worked," said Murphy, who sits on Foreign Relations. "The President tried that a year ago and it seemed to make the situation worse, not better."

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a member of the Armed Services Committee, was among those who said Trump has the authority to act now.

"In a case like this, where you have determined chemical weapons are being deployed," Rounds told CNN, "we have recognized that the President does have the ability to respond in short order."

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a senior member on Foreign Relations, said the US needs to go the diplomatic route and work with the international community to build a case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"We need to work with the United Nations and hold President Assad accountable for his war crimes," Cardin said.

Several Syrian activist groups on Saturday reported the attack, which took place in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. The groups said deadly gas was dropped in barrel bombs from helicopters. Gruesome and emotional images of injured and dying victims have played repeatedly on television and online since. The Syrian government has denied the allegations.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting Monday at the White House, Trump vowed he would have a response within the next two days. "We cannot allow atrocities like that," he said.

After a similar attack a year ago, Trump ordered the firing of scores of cruise missiles at Syrian forces.

Immediately after last week's attack, Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and supports a robust US military presence in Syria, blasted Trump and said he had "emboldened" Assad when he said last week that he wanted to pull American forces out of the country.

McCain's House counterpart, Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, called it a "mistake" for Trump to want to leave Syria at this stage.

"I think the notion that we would leave Syria is -- was a mistake, because we haven't finished destroying ISIS, and because people like Iran and Russia see a vacuum created when the US leaves into which they will run," he told CNN.

GOP Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who is also on the Armed Services Committee, agreed and said the US should not be "slaves to a timeline."

"I don't think the job is done in Syria, and I think we ought to stay until we get the results we need," Wicker added.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin cautioned that the US can't depart from Syria because it would "yield that to Iran and Russia."

"I think we have to respond," Johnson said. "But what I don't want to do is telegraph the response. If you're going to respond, respond. Do it quickly and effectively. Make Assad pay a price for that kind of heinous crime."

New Authorization for Use of Military Force?

Aside from what immediate military and diplomatic actions the US might take, Congress is struggling more broadly with how -- or if -- to update its Authorizations for the Use of Military Force for the war on terror, which were passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

Past efforts to renew them have collapsed under the competing demands of bipartisan lawmakers who want to place restrictions on the military missions and bipartisan lawmakers who want to give the commander in chief the widest latitude to go after terrorists, which they think resides in the existing authorities.

"The AUMF we're operating under now passed the week after September 11," said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats. "No amount of creative lawyering, in my view, can stretch it to cover intervention in Syria."

Corker said he believes he has found the "sweet spot" between those demands, and a new Authorization for Use of Military Force will be considered in his committee later this month. Senators and aides are keeping the details of the emerging compromise private, so it's difficult to assess if they have something that can pass.

Corker said he hopes details will be made public Thursday.

"We've kind of seen an outline of something that I think has been pretty thoughtful," said Johnson, a member of Foreign Relations, who was reluctant to discuss details before Corker unveiled them.

Senators said it was improbable that a new Authorization for Use of Military Force could be completed before Trump might take immediate action against Syria but that if it turns into a lengthy conflict a new authorization might be needed to approve the deployment.

"If they are surgical in nature, no," said Corker. "If we are going to go against the regime on any kind of sustained basis, there has to be an AUMF."

Murphy said Trump should not act without congressional approval, but he acknowledged the President might anyhow.

"The President doesn't have the authority to take military action," said Murphy, who is heavily involved in trying to rewrite the Authorization for Use of Military Force. "There is zero legal justification to take strikes against the Syrian regime when there is not an attack pending against the United States."

Wicker warned that he did not think a new Authorization for Use of Military Force had good odds to pass, putting them at less than 50-50.

"There are some people who actually don't believe the War Powers Act is even constitutional. They feel it limits the commander in chief in a way that's not conducive to do national security in an emergency. And there are other people who just don't want to authorize any use of military force," he said.

"A new authorization is not at the top of my list of priorities," Wicker added.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 812694

Reported Deaths: 15142
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139601904
Mobile721751321
Madison51923685
Shelby37240339
Baldwin37044538
Tuscaloosa34902599
Montgomery33919719
Lee23122240
Calhoun22125469
Morgan20620370
Etowah19739496
Marshall18238298
Houston17288405
St. Clair15897337
Cullman15297290
Limestone15178198
Elmore15038284
Lauderdale14125294
Talladega13692271
DeKalb12554258
Walker11069364
Blount10081174
Autauga9883146
Jackson9776177
Coffee9176188
Dale8856180
Colbert8781200
Tallapoosa7032195
Escambia6725127
Covington6672179
Chilton6580160
Russell624758
Franklin5927105
Chambers5558142
Marion4952126
Dallas4854199
Clarke472681
Pike4716105
Geneva4558126
Winston4461101
Lawrence4252117
Bibb421686
Barbour355374
Marengo333989
Monroe329962
Randolph324763
Butler323994
Pickens313581
Henry310565
Hale308787
Cherokee299457
Fayette290579
Washington250851
Cleburne245958
Crenshaw243375
Clay239767
Macon230662
Lamar215446
Conecuh185351
Coosa177738
Lowndes173161
Wilcox167038
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125544
Choctaw86627
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A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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