Trump’s Syria action unnerves GOP libertarians, Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s military strike against Syria drew strong pushback from an odd mix of libertarian Republicans, Democrats and the far-right conservatives who have long insisted on Congress’ constitutional authority for acts of war.

Trump burnished an “America first” foreign policy during his 2016 campaign, warning that rival Hillary Clinton would dangerously order U.S. soldiers into international conflicts. He was often critical of former President Barack Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis in 2013 and urged him at the time to seek congressional approval for any military action.

But the president said Thursday night the airstrikes were in the “vital national security interest” of the U.S. and accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of having “choked” his own citizens in a chemical attack.

Trump’s decision to launch the airstrikes on a Syrian military base represented an about-face at the start of his presidency and angered Republicans and Democrats, who said the Constitution gave Congress sole power to declare war. They urged Trump to come to Congress to get authorization for military force.

“The Constitution is very clear that war originates in the legislature,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a leader of the party’s non-interventionist wing who challenged Trump for the GOP nomination.

Paul, who called the Syria strike unconstitutional, said Friday before a closed-door briefing for lawmakers they weren’t learning about the intelligence that led to the strike until the day after the missiles were launched.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said, “If there’s no strategy on Syria, he clearly made this decision based off of an emotional reaction to the images on TV, and it should worry everyone about the quixotic nature of this administration’s foreign policy.”

Republican leaders, many of whom back a more hawkish view of foreign policy, praised Trump’s actions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he supported “both the action and objective,” while House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the strike “appropriate and just.”

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been pushing for a more aggressive approach to Syria, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also welcomed the military action.

Any attempt by Trump to push a new war powers resolution through Congress would be difficult. Obama asked lawmakers two years ago to formally authorize war against the Islamic State but they never took action.

The Trump administration had only days earlier suggested Assad’s hold on power was a political reality. And Trump, in a December rally in North Carolina after his election, vowed the U.S. would “stop racing to topple … foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.”

Trump’s transformation did not sit well with Republican supporters in Congress and in the media who had backed his non-interventionist stances during the campaign. Conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter noted on Twitter the president had campaigned on not getting involved in the Middle East because it would help enemies of the U.S. and lead to more refugees.