Consult Congress before hitting Syria, Nevada lawmakers urge Obama

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from Nevada on Thursday urged President Barack Obama to consult further with Congress as he considers a military strike to punish Syrian leaders for suspected use of chemical weapons.

Rep. Joe Heck said taking action without “clearly defined goals and objectives” increases the risk the United States could become embroiled in another Middle Eastern war, and “thus far, the administration has not provided a persuasive argument for military intervention.”

“I believe that any military action must be done in consultation with and approved by the Congress,” said Heck, a Republican who sits on the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees. “Otherwise, we run the risk of sending our military into a situation that could result in another long, complex, and expensive conflict.”

Heck and fellow Republican Rep. Mark Amodei were among lawmakers who invoked the 1973 War Powers Act in urging Obama in a letter to receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of military force in Syria.

“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,” said the letter that was initiated by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., and signed by 116 lawmakers from both parties as of the afternoon.

Obama declared in an interview on Wednesday that the Syrian government was responsible for the use of poison gas delivered by rockets that hit rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21.

“And if that’s so, then there needs to be international consequences,” he said on the PBS “NewsHour.”

The Navy has positioned ships in the Mediterranean that are poised to strike Syrian air bases and chemical facilities with cruise missiles. But as momentum for a military strike appeared to build, there also were growing calls for Obama not to act in haste.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., joined by 53 other Democrats, urged Obama to seek approval from Congress before committing the military.

“We must learn the lessons of the past. Lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and others,” Lee said. “We must recognize that what happens in Syria does not stay in Syria; the implications for the region are dire.”

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., did not specifically call for Obama to seek approval from Congress. But in a statement he urged both “to work together as our nation determines any course of action, and to only consider military action as a last resort.”

“Reports of chemical weapon attacks on innocent women, men and children are appalling and must be taken very seriously,” Heller said.

Likewise, Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford stopped short of demanding formal action from Congress before Obama could proceed.

“The Assad regime’s horrific use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a crime against humanity that the international community cannot ignore,” Titus said, referring to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Any U.S. response should be strategic, effective, and short term and must prioritize our nation’s security and stability in the Middle East. It is important that Congress be kept fully briefed on this rapidly developing situation.”

Said Horsford: “The justification for committing American resources must be clear and a result of cautious deliberation: the president, working with Congress, should explain objectives and conditions for victory so we are not involved in a prolonged conflict.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has been briefed by the Obama administration and is being kept up to speed, an aide said. Reid has not commented as of late Thursday afternoon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.