Trump’s notification to Congress under the 1973 War Powers Act claims “vital national security and foreign policy interests” are at stake in Syria.
WASHINGTON — U. S. air strikes on Syria were in the “vital national security and foreign policy interests” of the United States and were intended to prevent future chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime, President Trump told Congress on Sunday.
“The purpose of this military action was to degrade the Syrian military’s ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and to dissuade the Syrian government from using or proliferating chemical weapons,” Trump said in outlining the legal basis for his action.
Trump did not rule out additional strikes, saying he would take additional action “as necessary and appropriate.”
The formal notification to Congress complies with a 1973 congressional resolution requiring the president to disclose when he has committed U. S. troops to military action.
It was the second time Trump has sent a war powers notification to Congress. The first came a year and one week ago, when Trump ordered a similar, smaller attack on a Syrian air base suspected of housing chemical weapons.
Sunday’s notification followed much the same format, claiming that he president has broad authority as commander-in-chief to commit U. S. forces to protect national interests.
But his time, Trump added another legal argument: The strikes were necessary “to deter the use and proliferation of chemical weapons, and to avert a worsening of the region’s current humanitarian catastrophe.”
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Because it’s the second strike against Syria in as many years, the action raises an additional legal complication. The War Powers Act requires the president to “terminate any use of United States Armed Forces” after 60 days unless Congress specifically authorizes future action.
Because the U. S. did not commit ground troops to the conflict, the White House is treating Friday’s strike as a separate conflict that starts the 60-day clock over.
That’s not good enough for congressional critics who say Trump should have sought approval to launch strikes.
“It’s very, very clear Congress has power to declare war, and only Congress,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday. “So if you are initiating war against a sovereign nation like Syria that hadn’t declared war on United States, it’s only Congress that can do it. President Trump is not a king. He’s a president.”
The air strikes came just hours after 88 members of Congress — 72 Democrats and 16 Republicans — urged Trump to consult Congress before taking military action. “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,” they said.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said any further escalation of the conflict should require clear approval from Congress.
“The president does need to come to Congress,” she said on NBC’s Meet the Press . “We need to have these discussions because we don’t see that Bashar al-Assad will all of a sudden become a real nice guy.”
But Chris Edelson, an American University professor who studies presidential war powers, said Trump — like previous presidents — has taken advantage of congressional gridlock to enhance the war powers of the president.
“Unless Congress is going to exert itself and define some limits, it’s going to be up to the administration to decide what to do,” he said. “The only thing limiting the administration is the administration itself.”