House: No Syria Strike Until Congress Approves It

by Jenny Hollander

So maybe the U.S. won't strike Syria Thursday.

Dozens of House Reps, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, have published an open letter to President Obama, none-too-shyly informing him that if he approves military intervention without running it by Congress, he'll be breaking federal law. They're referring to a pesky 1973 law entitled the War Powers Resolution, which forbids the President to jump into conflict without running it past Congress first.

White House officials had confirmed that the President and his aides were considering launching missile strikes against Syria — a punitive response to the country's chemical attack last week, apparently orchestrated by President Assad — as early as Thursday. As we reported earlier, there is no universally accepted international law that requires military intervention in the case of crimes against humanity, and there's no law against it either.

But there is a law that prohibits the president from approving military conflict without congressional oversight. And he's broken it before, in the 2011 case of military intervention in Libya. Then, the president's office publicly stated that he was not harming "national interest" by breaking the law, and the use of military force was limited and not "hostile."

Responded the fairly passive-aggressive letter:

If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missles, 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.”

In a separate letter, two more House Reps pointed out that Obama couldn't legally strike Syria without Congress approval if it wasn't a "national emergency."

"As none of these criteria have been met, we believe it is Congress's right and responsibility to be fully briefed on any potential plans to engage in military action in Syria," they wrote. More than 100 more House Reps plan to deliver another letter, repeating just that, to the President Thursday.

If a strike against Syria does go ahead Thursday, it'll likely have to be because the President has declared a state of national emergency. Though we've seen no evidence that Syria has any plans to threaten the United States, the White House may make the case that military intervention is immediately necessary, nonetheless. Some in Congress, according to The Hill, are expecting this to be the case.

The White House may argue that chemical weapons in Syria could be used against the United States next, and so invasion is necessary. Additionally, the leader of Syrian rebel group Free Syrian Army has told press that if not stopped, Assad will unleash chemical weapons on tens of thousands more Syrian civilians. That, and other confidential information, could hypothetically be used to make the case that there does exist a state of emergency.

White House officials have been consulting with Congress and House Reps since news of the chemical attack broke, prompting reports that the president has been trying to broker a compromise with lawmakers.