Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - A growing, bipartisan number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill are asking President Obama to seek their vote of approval before any U.S. military intervention in Syria in response to evidence that the nation used chemical weapons in an ongoing civil war.
"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," wrote Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., in a letter sent Wednesday to Obama that had been signed by 111 House lawmakers, 94 Republicans and 17 Democrats, by late Wednesday.
"We stand ready to come back in to session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding the U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict," the letter states. Congress is scheduled to return from the summer break on Sept. 9.
The White House has previously contended that the president has the legal authority to conduct limited military intervention when it is deemed vital to national security interests. The White House has said officials are consulting with lawmakers, but has not indicated whether the president would seek formal congressional authorization.
As a senator and presidential candidate in 2007, Obama told The Boston Globe that he believed the president does not have the power to unilaterally authorize a military attack unless it involves stopping "an actual or imminent threat."
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also voiced support this week for an authorization vote telling MSNBC on Monday: "Congress has gotten a pass on all of these (foreign policy) issues. And the debate in Washington, to me, can be almost sophomoric and silly because we're not taking ownership over these decisions."
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., an Obama ally and former Democratic National Committee chairman, told the Richmond Times Dispatch that he also supports an authorization vote. "If you don't go on the board on some kind of military action ... why have a Congress?" said Kaine, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee.
However, it is unclear that an authorization to intervene in Syria could pass a divided Congress, and the failure to do so would complicate U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic efforts in the region. Neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., nor House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have joined the chorus for an authorization vote yet. Instead, Boehner's office said this week that Obama should "consult" with Congress before military action is taken.