Congress wants its say on any attack against Syria

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WASHINGTON -- Any effort by President Barack Obama to launch military action against the Syrian regime faces growing resistance on Capitol Hill, as increasing numbers of lawmakers from both parties insist on having a say.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote a lengthy letter Wednesday to the president, asking about the administration's objectives. It came after a day of mounting concern among lawmakers anxious for an explanation for the possible action against Syria.

In an interview Wednesday night on PBS, Mr. Obama said he had "not yet made a decision" on Syria, but had "gotten options from our military" and discussed the issue with his national security staff.

"It is essential that you provide a clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action -- which is a means, not a policy -- will secure U.S. objectives and how it fits into your overall policy," Mr. Boehner wrote. He asked Mr. Obama to "make the case to the American people and Congress" about how a military strike "will secure American national security interests, preserve America's credibility" and slow the use of chemical weapons.

His letter came after Reps. Scott Rigell, R-Va., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., also circulated letters seeking answers. Mr. Rigell's letter has been signed as of Wednesday night by 118 members, largely Republicans.

Some lawmakers are going further, raising serious questions about the need for U.S. involvement. The administration contends that the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons demands a strong response.

"I cannot support military action in Syria unless the president presents to Congress his broader strategy in the region that addresses our national security interests and the budget to support it," said Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee's top Republican.

Some Democrats were also wary. "Even if he [Syrian President Bashar Assad] did use chemical weapons, that doesn't give the president the authority to attack Syria" without going to Congress, said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. "Our troops aren't being attacked; our nation isn't being attacked. He has a responsibility to consult Congress first."

Congress is now on a summer recess that began Aug. 2 and is set to run until Sept. 9. Reconvening before that is highly unlikely. The upcoming Labor Day weekend is an important time for political activity back home, and the Jewish New Year begins at sundown Sept. 4 and continues for two days.

Mr. Boehner's concerns reflect congressional worries rooted both in history and tradition. Eleven years ago, lawmakers were consulted on -- and most eventually approved of -- giving President George W. Bush broad authority to wage war in Iraq. But public opinion about the conflict soured over time, sending Mr. Bush's approval ratings tumbling.



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