Billings Gazette: Tester, Daines say no more Syria bombings without Senate approval

Montana’s congressional delegation is cautioning President Donald Trump not to proceed with any more Syrian bombings without Senate approval.

U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines say they didn’t oppose Thursday night’s bombings but think it’s time Congress update the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which addresses military action in Afghanistan and Iraq but not Syria.

The attack against a Syrian air base was the first U.S. assault against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The lawmakers issued statements about the bombing after participating in a confidential, all-Senate briefing by the Trump administration.

“Before further military intervention in Syria we need to have a clear plan and a clear endgame. As I said when Barack Obama was president, the White House does not have a blank check to entangle our troops and taxpayers in foreign conflicts,” said Tester, Montana’s Democratic senior senator. “The costs of war are great and take a toll on human life, returning service members, their families, and all Americans. In order to keep this nation safe and secure, we need a strategic plan with Congressional approval and oversight to hold the Putin-backed Assad regime accountable.”

Daines, also said the future military action required a congressionally approved plan, but he said the president was right to launch 59 missiles at a Syrian airstrip after the state attacked its citizens with deadly chemicals earlier this week.

“This was an appropriate strategic strike that had a defined mission and leveled the airfield where these horrific chemical attacks against Syrian children and families originated,” said Daines, a Republican. “However, I still remain concerned that a long-term strategy to deal with Assad and Russian interference is not yet clear and I want to ensure America’s interests are protected.”

After the briefing, both Daines and Tester flew out of Washington for a two-week Easter break.

In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, called the bombings appropriate, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi asked Ryan to cancel the two-week break so a military plan could be developed.

Montana doesn’t have a representative in the House. Former Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke resigned from the state’s at-large seat to lead the Department of Interior.

Democrat Rob Quist, Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Mark Wicks are campaigning to replace Zinke. Absentee ballots for a special election will be mailed out April 28. Voting ends Thursday, May 25.

Both Gianforte and Quist said a military plan is needed for addressing Syria.

“The Assad regime committed an atrocity when they brutally murdered innocent men, women, and children earlier this week,” Gianforte said. “We have an obligation to protect and defend our national security and to stop the use of chemical weapons. President Trump acted within his authority as commander and chief, and I stand behind his decision to take out the air base where these chemical attacks were launched. Trump sent a strong message to Assad and other dictators around the world that the horrific use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.”

“I look forward to President Trump and Congress working together on a long-term strategy to address this crisis in Syria,” Gianforte continued. “As we work towards a solution, we must always ensure that America’s interests are protected.”

Quist cautioned against committing to another Middle Eastern war without an exit plan.

“What happened in Syria, the loss of innocent lives, including women and children, is intolerable. As the president said, it’s an affront to humanity. However, we need to have a clear plan and strategy before intervening militarily and Congress should be consulted going forward,” Quist said.

“Any military intervention needs to be strategic and with an endgame in place. The last thing we need is to get involved in yet another Middle Eastern war with no end in sight,” the Democrat continued. “After all, it’s our sons and daughters who have to bear the burden, so we’d better get it right when getting entangled in foreign conflicts.”

Wicks had not returned a call to his home by presstime.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the Trump administration signaled new sanctions would soon follow the missile attack. The Pentagon was probing whether Russia was involved in the chemical weapons assault that compelled Trump to action.

During the Obama presidency, Trump said Obama should have had congressional approval for military action. He wasn’t the only one.

Daines voted against authorizing U.S. military involvement in Syria in 2013 when he was Montana’s lone congressman. At the time, Daines said he had heard from Montanans through telephone townhall meetings and concluded constituents didn’t support military force. He said the objective of military action was unclear and the outcome uncertain.

Daines’ staff said the senator’s position on Syria was unchanged. A clear plan and certain outcome are required.

Tester opposed a 2013 military strike in Syria, as well. Obama had asked Congress to approve military action to destroy chemical weapons.

Like Daines, Tester said he had consulted with Montanans and concluded that military action was a bad idea. He said at the time it was better to pressure Syria to surrender its chemical weapons.

Russia negotiated a deal with Syria in 2013 that required Syria’s chemical weapons to be destroyed under international supervision. But the United Nations concluded that chemical weapons were again being used in 2014.