Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 20, 2014

Reid, McConnell Mum on Syria as Rand Paul Calls for Debate (Updated)

Senate leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have not yet weighed in on whether they believe Congress should have to debate and authorize military action in Syria before President Barack Obama can move forward with it.

Reid’s office says the Nevada Democrat has been briefed by the administration, “but that’s all we have to say right now.” McConnell has not yet released a statement and his office would not say whether or when he might.

Reid voted to authorize both the Gulf War and the Iraq War. In 1991, only 10 out of 55 Senate Democrats voted to support the use of military force in Kuwait. McConnell is in a difficult spot because while he has traditionally supported military engagement, he now has to consider the positions of anti-war libertarian Rand Paul of Kentucky, whose continued support is essential to maintaining the conservative vote back home for his re-election in 2014.

On Wednesday, Paul released a statement urging congressional debate and emphasizing Congress’ role in declaring war.

“The United States should condemn the use of chemical weapons. We should ascertain who used the weapons and we should have an open debate in Congress over whether the situation warrants U.S. involvement. The Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress not the President,” Paul said. “The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States and victory by either side will not necessarily bring in to power people friendly to the United States.”

The only member of leadership in either party who has weighed in is No. 2 Republican John Cornyn of Texas, who also is in cycle. Cornyn put out a statement Tuesday.

“Before any action is taken regarding Syria, it is imperative that President Obama make the case to the American people and consult with Congress,” the statement read. “He needs to explain what vital national interests are at stake and should put forth a detailed plan with clear objectives and an estimated cost for achieving those objectives.”

Updated 11:50 p.m.

Obama will consult with lawmakers via a teleconference Thursday, according to Cornyn’s Twitter feed. According to the War Powers Act, the president must notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military engagement. Only Congress has the power to officially declare war, but the president’s consultation with Congress is key to adhering to the law set forth by the War Powers Act.

More details in the morning when sources are, you know, awake.

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