Fearing war by tweet, Dems press for limits on Trump's powers

Fearing war by tweet, Dems press for limits on Trump's powers
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Democratic war veterans in Congress are calling for new restraints on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE’s military powers, warning that the president’s itchy Twitter finger could launch a war. 

Pointing to Trump’s recent tweets threatening missile strikes on Syria, the Democrats are urging Congress to pass a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) as a check on the president’s impulses.

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“If you keep tweeting this, at some point, a country may deem that as necessary for them to execute the necessary preemptive action,” Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoOne year later: Puerto Rico battles with bureaucracy after Maria Grassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Arizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around MORE (D-Ariz.), an Iraq War veteran, said Friday. “Maybe it’s not Russia this time, but maybe it’s North Korea. North Korea has always had a hair-trigger. Let’s say the president tweets something out, if they find it provocative, we might find ourselves in a war … over 280 characters.  

“That’s not how you govern. That’s not how you run your military. It’s certainly not how you run your country.”

Rep. Mike ThompsonCharles (Mike) Michael ThompsonMcCarthy joins push asking Trump for more wildfire aid in California California wildfires prompt deficit debate in Congress House Dems press Trump on bump stocks ban MORE (D-Calif.), a veteran of the Vietnam War, delivered a similar warning. 

“The idea that he would do serious matters over … Twitter without the advice of your advisers, without the advice of the military, without working with Congress, should worry every American across our great country,” Thompson said.  

“It’s got to stop.”

The Syria crisis has escalated since the weekend, when a chemical attack on a Damascus suburb reportedly killed at least 40 people. On Wednesday, Trump responded by tweeting that U.S. missiles aimed at Syria "will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'" 

On Thursday, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' Pompeo backed continued US support in Yemen war over objections from staff: report Stand with veterans instead of predatory for-profit colleges MORE attempted to walk back any immediate military response, telling members of the House Armed Services Committee that no decisions had been finalized.  

“Today our president did say that he’s not made a decision,” he said. 

Mattis is reportedly seeking more certainty that Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind the chemical attacks before responding with force.

Rep. Salud CarbajalSalud CarbajalLatinos aren't reaching top military positions, study shows IRS makes it easy for nonprofits to spend dark money in our elections Dems demand answers on Pentagon not recognizing Pride Month MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services panel who served in the Marines during the first Gulf War, lamented the messaging gap between Trump and his advisers.

“Clearly the administration’s adults were in our committee hearing, not in the White House,” Carbajal said. “This just reflects an ongoing pattern of erratic behavior by this president — not cohesive, not strategic — that only puts our women and men in uniform in danger.”

Gallego offered a much more damning assessment of the reason for the divide between Trump and his Cabinet. 

“The president’s a horrible president. He doesn’t know how to govern; he doesn’t know how to work with his Cabinet; he doesn’t know how to work with professionals,” Gallego said. 

“He just spouts at the mouth like a drunkard. That’s the reality of what we’re dealing with.”

On Thursday, Trump walked back his earlier threat of strikes on Syria. 

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place,” he tweeted. “Could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

The inconsistent messages from the president are part of the reason the Democrats are seeking a new AUMF to govern the Syria crisis. Congress passed the existing war-powers resolution in 2001, following the attacks of 9/11, and many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say it needs updating to fit the current conflict — an idea shot down by Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign Blue wave poses governing risks for Dems Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE (R-Wis.) on Thursday. 

“The existing AUMF gives him the authority he needs to do what he may or may not do,” Ryan said.

The Democrats quickly condemned Ryan’s position. Thompson said the blanket opposition to a new AUMF among GOP leaders marks “a huge step backwards” in terms of Congress asserting its constitutional power to declare war. Former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBlue wave poses governing risks for Dems Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Ohio), though he never pressed hard for a new AUMF, had nonetheless endorsed the notion that it was needed.  

“If you just refuse to take it up, refuse to do your job, refuse to bring measures to the floor for a vote or to the committee for a hearing, yes, it’s been a huge step backwards,” Thompson said. 

“War is not a reality television show, and it should not be treated as a reality television show. And certainly not by the commander in chief of the greatest country in the world.”

Gallego also raised concerns with Mattis’s recent testimony, saying it offers the Pentagon broad powers to launch military strikes anyplace in the world where U.S. troops are stationed. 

“Basically it would open up a whole world for us to attack. Because we have troops in the field does not mean we actually have the authority, in my opinion, for us to be launching weapons into a country that wasn’t covered by the [2001] AUMF,” he said. 

“That is a new explanation that I have never heard of — a new policy that I’ve never seen before — and I think that needs further explanation before we go on and do anything else.”