By Jeremy Herb
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) on Thursday threatened to impeach President Obama if any U.S. troops are killed in Syria.
“No president, Democrat or Republican, should have the authority to bypass the Constitution and the will of the American people and bomb a foreign country because he does not like the leader of the country,” he said.
Jones’s threat came at a press conference where a bipartisan group of libertarian-leaning Republicans and liberal Democrats — including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — pushed for legislation to bar Obama from arming the Syrian rebels without congressional approval.
The bills come after the White House said last month that it would provide military assistance to the rebels because it concluded that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons.
Jones and the other lawmakers frequently cited the 2011 U.S. intervention in Libya in their concerns with potential military action in Syria. In Libya, the Obama administration took part in the NATO military campaign that ousted Moammar Gadhafi from power without approval from Congress.
They stressed their bill was as much about forcing Congress to approve any military intervention as it was about expressing opposition to U.S. intervention.
But the other lawmakers on the bill at the press conference — which included Reps. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) — weren't so eager to talk impeachment.
When asked if they agreed with Jones, Gibson said he was most concerned about forcing Congress to have a real debate on what to do in Syria. Welch said that Obama had shown admirable restraint thus far in Syria. Paul ducked out of the press conference at that point and didn’t give his opinion.
Jones has previously raised the issue of impeachment over Syria, introducing a sense of Congress resolution last year that said the use of military force without authorization from Congress was an impeachable offense.
The two-year civil war in Syria, where more than 100,000 have been killed, has split Congress in a manner that doesn’t fall along party lines.
Conservative and libertarian Republicans have joined liberal Democrats to express opposition to U.S. intervention. In addition to the legislation from Paul and the House lawmakers, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) also introduced a bill this week requiring congressional approval before any U.S. military aid is sent to the rebels.
Lawmakers opposed to intervention in Syria say U.S. involvement will only exacerbate the conflict, and they warn U.S. weapons will wind up in the hands of Islamic militants fighting alongside the secular opposition.
“There’s a certain irony to this,” Paul said Thursday. “Now we will be arming forces who are actually associated and fighting on the same side as al Qaeda.”
Hawkish Republicans and Democrats, however, have criticized the Obama administration for not doing more to intervene. A group of senators including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have called on Obama to create a no-fly zone in Syria.
They say the U.S. will not put U.S. troops in Syria, but can use a no-fly zone to give the rebels a safe area in the country to organize and gain the upper hand in the conflict. They also dispute the notion that the U.S. can’t provide weapons to vetted opposition groups rather than Islamic militants.
It’s unlikely that the bill from Gibson, Jones, Welch and Nolan will get a vote in the House. The Defense authorization bill that passed in the House earlier this month urged the president to “consider all courses of action to remove President Bashar Assad from power.”
Gibson introduced an amendment to remove the language, but it was defeated 123-301.