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Thursday, January 19, 2017

A bipartisan coalition of 116 U.S. Representatives has signed a letter insisting that President Barack Obama consult with Congress and receive its authorization before taking any military action against Syria.

The letter, which was written by Representative Scott Rigell (R-VA) on Tuesday, asserts that using U.S. military force against Syria without receiving authorization from Congress would be unconstitutional, and a violation of the War Powers Resolution of 1793. The letter has thus far been signed by 116 congresspeople — 98 Republicans, and 18 Democrats — and was scheduled to be sent to President Obama at 3pm, while he was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom in a speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. According to The Hill, Rigell chose to extend the signing deadline to later Wednesday evening, to give more of his colleagues time to sign it.

There is no equivalent letter circulating through the Senate, but several senators — including freshmen Democrats Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) — have echoed Rigell’s call for the White House to seek congressional authorization.

President Obama is reportedly prepared to order airstrikes against Syria as early as Thursday.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. President,

We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria. Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate — and the active engagement of Congress — prior to committing U.S. military assets. Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.

Mr. President, in the case of military operations in Libya you stated that authorization from Congress was not required because our military was not engaged in “hostilities.” In addition, an April 1, 2011, memorandum to you from your Office of Legal Counsel concluded:

“…President Obama could rely on his constitutional power to safeguard the national interest by directing the anticipated military operations in Libya—which were limited in their nature, scope, and duration—without prior congressional authorization.”

We view the precedent this opinion sets, where “national interest” is enough to engage in hostilities without congressional authorization, as unconstitutional. If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute “hostilities,” what does?

If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request. We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict.

UPDATE: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has sent a letter of his own to President Obama, requesting that the president “personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy.” While Speaker Boehner stops short of demanding congressional authorization of any strike, he does ask that President Obama explicitly “address on what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of congressional authorization under Article I of the Constitution.”

This post has been updated.

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