Politics ESSENTIAL WASHINGTON

Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington:

CongressSyriaWhite House

Trump's strike on Syria exposes growing GOP divide in Congress on foreign intervention and use of force

A handout picture released April 7 by the official Syrian Arab News Agency reportedly shows Syrian forces viewing damage at the Shayrat air field. (Syrian Arab News Agency)
A handout picture released April 7 by the official Syrian Arab News Agency reportedly shows Syrian forces viewing damage at the Shayrat air field. (Syrian Arab News Agency)

The U.S. military action in Syria exposed deepening divisions within the president’s party Friday, an ideological split over foreign policy that could complicate support in Congress.

The fissures among Republicans sent lawmakers into unusual political alliances with Democrats, whose own differences on military involvement are often more muted.

Among skeptics is libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose reluctance to engage in foreign entanglements often results in common cause with some of the more liberal Democrats.

Both parties are pushing President Trump to seek authorization for the use of military force from Congress under the War Powers Act, though Congress is unlikely to take up debate soon.

“In foreign policy, things are not as simple as they appear, and actions often have consequences well beyond the obvious,” Paul wrote in an op-ed for Fox News. “It is for this very reason that the founders wanted a deliberate, thoughtful foreign policy, and when military action was needed, they wanted it debated and authorized by Congress.”

That non-interventionist approach puts a newer generation of Republicans at odds with the GOP’s more traditional hawks, who saluted Trump’s strikes on Syria as a strategic operation in response to President Bashar Assad’s attack on civilians in Syria.

They largely believe the White House is operating under existing congressional authority, and do not expect a prolonged military campaign.

“I think the president had the authority to do what he did, and I'm glad he did it," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who opposed President Obama’s proposed 2013 action in Syria as too tepid.

McConnell said Trump's action sent a message: "America is back in terms of playing a leadership role and trying to be constructive in a variety of different places around the world."

Fallout on Capitol Hill was swift as senators were briefed Friday on the operation and lawmakers pressed for fuller understanding of the administration's Syria strategy.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) called on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to recall the House from its spring recess to debate an authorization, but that seemed highly unlikely as Congress left town for a two-week break.

Ryan showed the limits of lawmakers’ appetite to fully immerse Congress in the issue.

“Resolving the years-long crisis in Syria is a complex task, but Bashar al-Assad must be held accountable and his enablers must be persuaded to change course,” Ryan said. “I look forward to the administration further engaging Congress in this effort." 

Lawmakers for years have objected to the White House relying on the 2001 use of force authorization approved by Congress in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks for continue military action abroad.

Yet they have been unable to muster the political will to pass a new one through the House and Senate, in part because lawmakers are hesitant to go on record with a vote perceived as either supporting or opposing a military effort.

Even after Congress cut short a summer recess in 2013 to address the Syria issue, lawmakers failed to bring forward a new agreement.

In 2015, Obama sent Congress a new "Authorization for Use of Military Force" but many lawmakers dismissed it as too narrowly drafted in ways that confine the president’s role.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a Rust Belt lawmaker, has proposed a new authorization, with a Hoosier State colleague, Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.)

“At this critical moment, it is vital that the United States has a comprehensive strategy that addresses the situation in Syria,” Banks said. “Part of this strategy should include Congress passing a new AUMF. The constitution grants Congress the power of declaring war, and we need to take that obligation seriously.”

Another bill has been proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland.)

They are among six bills now pending before Congress, from Democrats and Republicans, to update congressional approval for te use of force in Syria.

Latest updates

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
61°