Pressing his argument that President Barack Obama should not use
military force against Syria without congressional approval, U.S Rep. Scott
Rigell said he's sending a letter to the White House this afternoon signed by
more than 90 House members who agree with him.
The Virginia Beach Republican, who in 2011 objected to air strikes against Libyan forces on the same grounds, said failing to engage Congress in a public debate before committing American forces violates the U.S. Constitution.
The Syrian government's use of chemical weapons against its own people "is a crime against humanity," Rigell said. "I certainly believe the Assad regime is not a legitimate government."
But that alone is not enough to permit the use of U.S. military force, he said.
Short of an attack or an immiment threat against the United States, its territories or its military, Rigell argues that the president is required to seek Congress' approval before launching an attack.
Among the Republicans and Democrats who signed the one-page letter are Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, and six other members of the House Armed Services Committee, as well as Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Although Congress is the middle of a five-week recess, Rigell said members could be called back to the Capitol within 24 hours to hear from Obama and debate how to respond to Syria's use of poison gas against its own people.
"In 36 hours he could know the will of the American people because this is where the moral foundation is found," said Rigell, referring to the House and Senate. "This is what we do as legislators. There is no more serious matter than the application of U.S. force."
Rigell said private discussions between administration officials and senior legislators about how to respond to Syria's actions aren't a substitute for a floor debate.
"Those very conversations need to be taking place on the House floor and on the Senate floor," he said.
Rigell said based on what he's learned so far from the White House, he doesn't favor American military action. "What I'm hearing principally is punishment," he said. "That may be an oversimplification but punishment in and of itself is not a strategic objective. I'm not diminishing the humanitarian tragedy here, but what I've not seen here is the careful consideration of consequences that flow (from military strikes)...What does that lead to?"
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, raised similar concerns in recent days about Obama possibly authorizing attacks on Syrian government installations without first getting congressional approval.
Kaine said in a statement released Monday that Syria's attacks on its own people were "despicable" but "absent an imminent threat to United States national security, the U.S. should not be engaged in military action without Congressional approval."
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