Mass. House delegation continues to call for vote on Syria strikes

WASHINGTON — Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation continued to press President Obama on Tuesday to seek congressional authorization to use force in Syria, even though he has already ordered the bombing campaign.

“The president has said this is going to take years, plural,” said Representative James P. McGovern of Worcester, a leading critic of military intervention. “War’s a big deal and we ought to treat it as such.”

McGovern was among all nine members of the Massachusetts House delegation, all Democrats who normally ally with the president, who signed a letter in July calling on Obama to seek congressional action before beginning strikes in the region. Congress voted last week on a narrower resolution to train and arm Syria’s moderate opposition.


But the White House, while urging Congress to take further action in support of an aerial campaign, has said Obama has authority to fight the Islamic State based on 2001 and 2002 votes authorizing military action against Al Qaeda and Iraq.

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Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday, informing them of the strikes and declaring that he had the right to order them “in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”

McGovern blamed congressional leaders in both parties for sitting on the sidelines during the current conflict and allowing a precedent that “will come back to haunt us.”

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III of Brookline issued a statement agreeing with the need for a military campaign against the Islamic State that includes “a comprehensive strategy that includes a coalition of international partners and targeted airstrikes.” But he added that he was deeply concerned that Obama acted without Congress.

“We are not talking about short-term strikes with a clear end in sight,” he said. “We are talking about potentially engaging our country in a prolonged military conflict overseas. Our Constitution makes clear that these decisions must come before Congress, and Congress should not abdicate that responsibility.”


Representative Niki Tsongas of Lowell agreed, “given the seriousness of the many questions that are being asked by both Republicans and Democrats.”

Despite signing the July letter, Representative Stephen F. Lynch said he supported the airstrikes, calling them a “good development.” The South Boston Democrat gave Obama more enthusiastic support than other members of the state’s delegation who spoke out.

“I think it would be good” if Obama sought congressional approval, Lynch said. “But I think constitutionally he had the authority to take them.”

He emphasized the importance of the support Obama garnered from Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Senator Edward J. Markey also endorsed a strategy of working with Arab allies to degrade the Islamic State. But he pointed to his vote last week against a plan to arm and equip Syrian rebels as evidence of his skepticism.


Senator Elizabeth Warren said in an e-mail that “It’s promising that the nations in the region most immediately affected by these terrorists are taking an active part in the current response.”

“America must not get dragged into another ground war in the Middle East,” she said.

Noah Bierman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.