Rep. Collins Urging Obama To Consult Congress on Syria

11:43 PM, Aug 28, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO - Chris Collins says he'll go back to Capitol Hill to talk about Syria.

If that's what it takes.

"Even if we have to go back to Washington tomorrow," the 27th-district Republican representative said, "let's talk this through and make sure everything's been examined."

Collins, along with more than 100 other members of Congress, has signed a letter penned by Virginia Republican Scott Rigell, urging President Barack Obama to "consult and receive authorization from Congress" before he makes a decision regarding a military strike in Syria. Obama told PBS on Wednesday he has yet to make a decision on the matter, but  Secretary of State John Kerry claims there is "undeniable" evidence that Bashar al-Assad's regime used chemical weapons on its own people.

The Syrian government, in the midst of a brutal civil war, claims rebel forces used the chemical weapons, but leaders in Washington aren't buying that theory. Collins called the actions "unconscionable." Brian Higgins (D-NY26) called it "inexcusable," and Obama himself said it "needs to stop."

The divide in Washington surrounds Obama's decision-making,  or, you could say, his power to decision-make. Theoretically, the 1973 War Powers Resolution -- passed in response to Vietnam -- largely requires the President of the United States to receive permission from Congress before authorizing military action, except for in cases of immediate danger to the nation. Collins and others have argued that the Syrian conflict does not constitute an immediate threat to America's interests. However, as political expert and former Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds pointed out, the War Powers Resolution historically has not stopped presidents from acting without Congressional approval. 

Despite the urgings of Collins and others on Capitol Hill, Reynolds said it does appear Obama could bypass a formal authorization from them.

"He probably has the latitude to move ahead with out," Reynolds said. "He just has to make sure any military action is well without congressional War Power approval."

Reynolds, who served under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said presidents typically consult Congress informally in these cases, even if they do not call for an actual vote. Republican House Speaker John Boehner wrote his own letter asking Obama to reach out to lawmakers before taking action, although he did not ask for an authorization from his Congress.

Collins didn't take a stance Wednesday on how Obama should proceed, but at a media event on Tuesday, Higgins certainly did.

"Under no circumstances," Higgins said, "should we have troops on the ground in Syria."

Now, the debate turns to whether Higgins -- and others -- will even have a say in the matter.

Obama said he has talked with military leaders already, and his press secretary confirmed he's had talks with certain members of Congress.

"We need to be consulted in Congress," Collins said. "That's a role we do play, should play."

"What's the rationale? What are the potential ramifications? So we don't open Pandora's Box here."



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