Rigell to Obama: Consult us before striking Syria

August 27, 2013

Updated 1:51 p.m.

A Republican lawmaker who has one of the largest concentrations of active-duty and retired military service members in his congressional district is calling on the White House to seek congressional approval before launching any U.S. military strike on Syria.

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), whose district includes Naval Station Norfolk, is circulating a letter among colleagues asking President Obama to call on Congress to debate the use of U.S. military force in Syria.

"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," the letter says.

Rigell said in an interview that he has consistently called for congressional consultation before the use of military force and opposed similar strikes carried out in Libya last year.

"This is not personal to the president. It’s not saying that some type of action isn’t warranted. That’s not the point. The point is it must be collaborative and deliberative," Rigell said. The administration's decision to begin calling congressional leaders and other key lawmakers "is helpful," he added, "But that is not an acceptable substitute whatsoever to engaging the institution itself."

"I am not calling for us to come into session unless the president is on the cusp of saying, 'Look, this has got to be done, and it has to be done in a timely manner.' If he’s at that point, absolutely, I don’t care where members are, if they’re on the opposite side of the world," he said. "We’re talking about the engagement of U.S. forces."

By Tuesday afternoon, Rigell had 20 cosigners -- including one Democrat, Rep. Beto O'Rourke (Tex.). But he may have difficulty convincing a significant number of colleagues (see a full list below). Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), for example -- a leading House Republican voice on national security issues -- said Monday evening that he believes Obama can take military action without congressional authorization.

"I believe as commander in chief he has the right to take the action," King told CNN. "It’s in his interest in consult with the leadership in the House and Senate, but I don’t believe he has to.”

Here is a copy of Rigell's letter:

Dear Mr. President,

We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria.  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.  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.

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.”  In addition, an April 1, 2011, memorandum to you from your 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.  If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute “hostilities,” what does?

If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request.  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.

Sincerely,

Co-signers as of 1:35 p.m. ET Tuesday:

Signers as of 1:42 pm

 

Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Tex.)

Rep. Scott Rigell (VA-02)

Rep. Matt Salmon (AZ-5)

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)

Rep. Scott Garrett (NJ-05)

Rep. Tom McClintock (CA-04)

Rep. Tom Marino (PA-10)

Rep. Dan Benishek,  M.D (MI-01)

Rep. Tom Rooney (FL-17)

Rep.  Steve Pearce (NM-02)

Rep. Tim Griffin (AR-2)

Rep Justin Amash (MI-03)

Rep. Raul Labrabor (ID-01)

Rep. Joseph Pitts (PA-16)

Rep. Trent Franks (AZ-8)

Rep. John Campbell (CA-45)

Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-04)

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (GA-03)

Rep.  Joe Wilson (SC-02)

Rep. Charles Boustany (LA-03)

Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04)

Anne Gearan contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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