In Congress, It’s the Fresher Faces Pushing for Vote on Syria Strike

After three wave elections following the Iraq invasion, this is the first time many lawmakers have experienced the drumbeats of war.

Congressman Scott Rigell, R-Va., gestures during an interview in his office in Virginia Beach, Va., Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Rigel is a freshman Congressman being challenged by Democrat Paul Hirschbiel. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Aug. 29, 2013, 1:46 p.m.

The push for a con­gres­sion­al vote ahead of any mil­it­ary strike in Syr­ia is be­ing spear­headed largely by law­makers who were not in Con­gress dur­ing the run-up to the war in Ir­aq.

As of Wed­nes­day, Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Scott Ri­gell had col­lec­ted the sig­na­tures of 140 House mem­bers de­mand­ing that Pres­id­ent Obama call Con­gress back in­to ses­sion to vote be­fore launch­ing an of­fens­ive in Syr­ia. And roughly three-quar­ters of the sign­ers, in­clud­ing Ri­gell him­self, a former Mar­ine elec­ted in 2010 who rep­res­ents the mil­it­ary-heavy area around Nor­folk, Va., came to Con­gress after the Ir­aq war had be­gun. More still had ar­rived after the Ir­aq war res­ol­u­tion passed in late 2002.

The same is also true in the Sen­ate, where first-term sen­at­ors have been among the loudest voices push­ing for ex­pli­cit con­gres­sion­al au­thor­iz­a­tion.

Much of the Con­gress has turned over since the early 2003 in­va­sion of Ir­aq, with three wave elec­tions in 2006, 2008, and 2010 sweep­ing away law­makers and re­dis­trict­ing elim­in­at­ing the seats of still oth­ers in 2012.

Only 32 cur­rent sen­at­ors served in 2002 dur­ing the fall vote on the Ir­aq war res­ol­u­tion and only 38 were there when Amer­ic­an troops launched the in­va­sion in the spring of 2003. In the House, roughly 40 per­cent of cur­rent mem­bers — 172 of them — were sworn in at the time of the 2003 in­va­sion.

That means that, for many in the cur­rent Con­gress, this is the first time they’ve ex­per­i­enced the drum­beats of war, out­side of the strikes that Obama au­thor­ized against Libya earli­er in his pres­id­ency. And in­stead of march­ing in line, the fresh faces are among those most loudly de­mand­ing a pub­lic de­bate.

“The U.S. should not take mil­it­ary ac­tion without con­gres­sion­al au­thor­iz­a­tion,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said this week.

“When and if Pres­id­ent Obama makes a de­cision on Syr­ia, he must im­me­di­ately call a spe­cial ses­sion of Con­gress and per­suade the Amer­ic­an people that what he pro­poses is crit­ic­al to the de­fense of our na­tion,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ad­ded.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Thursday on CNN’s New Day that “get­ting con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al is in my view con­sti­tu­tion­ally re­quired. “

Kaine, Murphy, and Cruz are all Sen­ate fresh­men.

When Obama was run­ning for pres­id­ent, he em­braced the power of Con­gress to au­thor­ize mil­it­ary strikes, telling The Bo­ston Globe, “The pres­id­ent does not have power un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion to uni­lat­er­ally au­thor­ize a mil­it­ary at­tack in a situ­ation that does not in­volve stop­ping an ac­tu­al or im­min­ent threat to the na­tion.”

On Thursday, Obama called House Speak­er John Boehner to brief him about the de­vel­op­ments in Syr­ia, and his top aides pre­pared to brief con­gres­sion­al lead­ers on rel­ev­ant com­mit­tees in the even­ing.

It is not clear what is caus­ing the di­vide between the old guard of Con­gress and the new, but it is pro­nounced. Mem­bers who were not in Con­gress pre-Ir­aq are sign­ing on to Ri­gell’s let­ter at a faster clip.

For in­stance, the cur­rent chair­man of the House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee, Rep. Mi­chael Mc­Caul of Texas, elec­ted in 2004, has signed the let­ter call­ing for con­gres­sion­al in­put. In con­trast, his pre­de­cessor as chair­man, GOP Rep. Pete King of New York, elec­ted in 1992, has said, “I be­lieve the pres­id­ent can take this ac­tion without au­thor­iz­a­tion from the Con­gress.”

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