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Lawmakers Talking Tougher on Syria, While Warning Obama to Consult Congress

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

“I am deeply skeptical of any claim that, in fact, it was the opposition that used chemical weapons,” Obama told reporters. “The broader point is that once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer.”

At a House hearing earlier Wednesday, Robert S. Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, said there was no evidence to confirm the report.

War Powers

Members also made it clear Wednesday that they hope Obama has learned a lesson about getting Congress’ support for military actions — given the divisions that erupted over the 2011 U.S. intervention in Libya.

“I would hope that as the president is making his decision with what our reaction will be, that he will, in fact, consult with the bipartisan leaders in the Congress, something that didn’t happen before our involvement with Libya,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who attended a briefing on Syria yesterday, said the White House needs to say what its reaction will be, and, if the president wants to use military force, he should come to the Congress for authorization.

“I don’t think you can ignore chemical weapons nor the rise of al-Qaida in the region, but that doesn’t translate into ground troops on the ground. There are many other options. But I think the administration has an obligation to come to us with those options very soon, because it is the president himself who has repeatedly described this as the red line,” she said.

“If the red line has in fact been crossed, it seems to the president has an obligation to follow through on his threat. If he’s making idle threats, that’s the worst thing he can do,” Collins added.

Collins said the need for a congressional vote authorizing force would depend on what exactly the president proposes. Collins was among the senators who wanted a congressional vote authorizing force in Libya — a vote that never came in the Senate. In July 2011, the House voted against a resolution that would have authorized the U.S. participation in a NATO airstrike campaign that helped Libyan rebels oust dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi. Obama had argued he didn’t need Congress’ permission to participate in that coalition military action.

Collins acknowledged that if the president only wants to take more limited actions, such as arming the Syrian opposition without engaging the U.S. military, then he would not need to come to Congress.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., said if Obama wants to take military action, Congress should hold a vote authorizing it. “Yes, obviously there should be,” he said.

But Sanders said there is strong opposition in the country to any more wars.

“Today we acknowledged the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, the significant loss of life. ... I don’t think the American people are anxious to get into another war.”

‘A Different Context’

Still, the prospect of chemical weapons use appears to have shifted congressional opinion on Syria. In addition to hawkish Republican senators like John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, some Democrats appear ready to consider a more active U.S. role.

Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this week that it might be time for military intervention.

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