Yoho on Syria: President needs congressional authority


U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, shown in this Aug. 23, 2013, says President Obama needs congressional authorization before taking military action in Israel.

Brett Le Blanc/The Gainesville S
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.

As the White House contemplates an immediate military strike on Syria, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, is calling on President Barack Obama to get congressional approval before taking any action.

Yoho is among the more than 100 lawmakers who signed a letter to Obama arguing that an attack on Syria without congressional authority would be unconstitutional.

"In my brief time in Congress, I've found that they (administration officials) don't listen to letters. But this is a way for us to show our displeasure. This is a way for us to speak up," the Republican freshman from Gainesville said Thursday in an interview.

Yoho said Obama was wrong to "arbitrarily" announce that the use of chemical weapons was his "red line" in Syria and make that the U.S. position without consulting Congress.

"For him to act unilaterally is an unconstitutional act, and I will not support it. In fact, I'll do everything I can to stop it," added Yoho, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The letter, authored by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., maintains that the nation's founders "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," Rigell wrote.

Rigell's correspondence recalled the Pentagon's previous involvement in Libya.

There, Obama had argued, congressional approval was unnecessary because America was not engaged in "hostilities."

"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?" Rigell asks in the letter.

"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."

The number of lawmakers, like Yoho, who signed on to Rigell's letter has grown fivefold, jumping from 33 on Tuesday to 150 as of Thursday, according to a report by The Washington Times.

Back in June, Yoho filed a bill that would prevent the U.S. government from funding or providing military aid to forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

One reason, according to the bill: "The Obama administration has not outlined a clear and definitive plan for United States involvement in Syria."

Yoho still believes that's the case.

"What are we attacking for?" Yoho asked.

He pointed out that it remains unclear who actually used the chemical weapons in question.

While the administration says the evidence is clear that Assad gassed his own people, killing hundreds of them, Assad's officials have denied that.

Assad himself called the claim "preposterous." And his spokesmen have asserted the rebels were the instigators in the poison-gas attack.

Yoho said it's also unclear why Obama made chemical weapons the trigger for U.S. military action.

While it is tragic that those killed in the gas attack — Doctors Without Borders estimates put the number at 355 people — lost their lives last week, more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the 2-year-old conflict, Yoho pointed out.

"It's just how this group got killed," he said.

"America does not need to intervene. It's not our fight," Yoho added. "It's time for America to stay home and focus on economic development. My vote is for non-intervention."

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