|U.S. Representative Scott Rigell (R-VA2)|
The list of signatories includes several other Virginia congressmen (Randy Forbes, Morgan Griffith, Robert Hurt, Robert Wittman, and Frank Wolf, in addition to Rigell). Also prominent among the signers are libertarian-leaning Republicans Justin Amash of Michigan, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Raul Labrador of Idaho, as well as Democrats Zoe Lofgren (California), Peter DeFazio (Oregon), Rush Holt (New Jersey), and Jim McDermott (Washington).
The text of the letter, addressed directly to the President, says:
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.Over the decades, Congress slowly ceded to the Executive Branch its constitutional authority for deciding when and if the United States. With the emergence of a more constitutionally-minded faction (including, but not limited to, libertarians like Rand Paul and Justin Amash), Members of Congress are beginning to reassert their rightful authority against usurpations by the White House.
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.
Rigell's letter is not legislation that limits presidential action putting U.S. interests and service members at risk, but it's nonetheless a positive step forward.