Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is urging his colleagues to vote on legislation that would require the Trump administration to get approval for “military humanitarian operations” in the wake of a missile strike in Syria last week.
“While such operations and interventions are well intentioned … they should only be undertaken after serious consideration and approval by the elected representatives of the American people, ensuring that public accountability on war-making decisions exists,” Lee said in a statement on Tuesday.
Lee and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation earlier this year that would require the Trump administration to get congressional approval before starting a “military humanitarian operation,” defined as operations that include using force “with the aim of preventing or responding to a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Under the legislation, the Trump administration wouldn’t need approval for preventing or responding to imminent attacks on the Unites States or U.S. territories, embassies or soldiers or for a direct reprisal for similar attacks.
A military humanitarian operation also doesn’t include rescue missions for U.S. soldiers or citizens, humanitarian missions in response to a natural disaster or training exercises.
Lee’s push for a vote comes after a United States missile strike last week targeting a Syrian air base in response to a chemical gas attack that U.S. and Western officials have attributed to the Syrian government, which is battling armed opposition in a yearslong civil war.
“President Trump and several senior administration officials have indicated that the United States may be prompted to act again in retaliation to other attacks against civilians or for broader humanitarian purposes,” the Utah Republican said.
He added that while military humanitarian operations are “well intentioned,” they are also “risky” and could have negative consequences for U.S. national security.
“Over the past 200 years, the separate and distinct roles of the executive and the legislative branches to declare war, launch military attacks, and defend against or retaliate for an attack against the United States have become blurred,” Lee said.
Most lawmakers have been supportive of Trump’s decision to launch a strike last week, arguing the administration had legal authority to carry out a stand-alone strike in response to a chemical attack.
But Lee is part of a small bipartisan group of senators who have said the administration should have gotten authorization from Congress and needs to get approval for future military operations inside Syria.
It’s unclear when, or if, the legislation from Lee and Paul could get a vote with lawmakers currently in the middle of a two-week recess.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled he would be open to a new war bill but also told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he doesn’t think Trump needed congressional approval for the strike.
Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, said they had not talked with McConnell’s office about scheduling a vote but hoped “that the Trump administration wants to explain its strategy to the Senate.”
Senators from both parties said late last week after a briefing with Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Trump administration had not laid out a broader, long-term strategy for Syria. GOP senators have also publicly split over what they think Trump’s next steps should be.
But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that senators could get additional briefings from Vice President Pence, including potentially over the recess.