Nearly three weeks after ordering a cruise missile attack against one of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s airfields, Donald Trump has yet to explain how that was legal without Congressional authorization.
Two Democratic members of Congress are demanding that Trump offer some sort of legal justification beyond off-the-cuff remarks from administration officials.
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Rep. Adam Schiff of California sent a stern letter to the White House on Tuesday, warning that Trump could be setting a dangerous precedent for conducting preemptive strikes and risking war with major powers, while cutting Congress out of the picture.
Two days after the missile strike, Trump sent Congress a notice that he had ordered it and that he had the “constitutional authority” to do so.
Kaine and Schiff wrote: “These assertions of authority do not provide Congress with the information it needs to exercise our constitutional responsibilities. Nor do they provide comfort to a public that fears deeper involvement in a horrific civil war at a time when the U.S. troop presence in the region is already increasing. The legal justification for an attack on the Syrian government is not an afterthought, but rather a first order consideration, and something that is vital for the American people to understand at the outset.”
The authors also expressed concern that the Trump administration might take preemptive strikes against North Korea without consulting Congress.
“While the President has the authority to use force to defend our service members and allies from an imminent threat, a preemptive strikes could easily spiral into a full-fledged war with a nuclear armed adversary,” Kaine and Schiff wrote. “It is precisely because the decision to go to war is such a momentous one for any nation that the Constitution provides Congress alone with the power to declare war.”
Several administration officials have defended the Syria attack by saying that it is in U.S. interests to deter future chemical weapons strikes. But that is not the same thing as saying the attack was conducted in self-defense or in response to an imminent threat, which would at least resemble past presidents’ justifications for not consulting Congress.