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Syria strike reactions: what top Republicans and Democrats in Congress are saying

Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

On Thursday night, President Donald Trump launched a military strike against a Syrian government airbase. The move, made in response to a gas attack by the regime earlier this week, was sudden, and reactions from members of Congress have only just started to come in.

Republicans generally were quick to speak out in support of the president’s action. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — leaders of the GOP’s interventionist wing who have long pushed for greater US military action against the Syrian regime, and who have been harsh critics of Trump — praised the move in a joint statement.

“Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action. For that, he deserves the support of the American people,” McCain and Graham said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is also one of the more hawkish Republicans in Congress, similarly praised the strikes. “President Trump has made it clear to Assad and those who empower him that the days of committing war crimes with impunity are over,” he said. He also called for a “comprehensive strategy” going forward.

Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement calling the strikes “appropriate and just.”

Even some congressional Republicans who opposed striking the Syrian regime when President Obama was considering it in 2013 expressed strong support for Trump’s move, as CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Politico’s Kyle Cheney noticed:

And Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who represents a swing district in Florida, praised Trump for not seeking congressional approval for the strikes:

Interestingly, though, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) declined to praise Trump’s action, instead speaking generally about the situation in Syria and asserting that “any military action” there “must be justified as protecting the vital national security interests of America.” He continued: “I look forward to our Commander-in-Chief making the case to Congress and the American people how we should do so in the days ahead.”

And unsurprisingly, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has long vocally criticized his party’s interventionist wing, spoke out against this strike, saying it will do “nothing to make us safer.”

Other Republicans with libertarian leanings, like Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Rep. Tom Massie (R-KY), another non-interventionist libertarian, also criticized Trump for not seeking congressional approval:

Democratic reactions ran the gamut from cautious praise to harsh criticism

As for Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a vague statement that seemed to praise the action but gently chide Trump for not consulting with Congress beforehand.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) gave a similarly measured response:

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, had a restrained but somewhat critical take in an MSNBC appearance, saying, "It does concern me that we not have an impulsive administration, that is ready to completely change direction, that isn't necessarily thinking through what are the consequences here."

Meanwhile, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a critic of President Obama’s Syria policy, praised the strikes as “an appropriate response” to the gas attack, saying “war crimes must have consequences.” However, he added, “military force against Assad can only continue in the long term with Congressional approval.”

Meanwhile, some Democratic members of Congress with military experience, like Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a former Marine Corps officer, and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), a colonel in the Air Force reserves, minced no words in their criticism of Trump’s action:

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who was famously the only member of Congress to vote against a broad authorization for the use of military force shortly after the 9/11 attacks, called on Congress to come back into session and debate the matter:

Former Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine (D-VA) called the strikes “unlawful” because Trump did not get congressional approval:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in a statement the Syrian regime “must be held accountable” for its “horrific act,” but also said Trump should have sought congressional approval. “We should not escalate this conflict without clear goals and a plan to achieve them," Warren continued.

However, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a moderate from Florida, issued a brief statement of support for the strikes:

And Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) issued a mixed statement, saying he was “encouraged that the Trump Administration has felt compelled to act forcefully,” but was "gravely concerned" that there was no "well-thought-out, comprehensive plan."

And Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who traveled to Syria and met with Assad a few months ago, harshly condemned Trump’s action, saying it could lead to “a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.”

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