Written by Ledyard King, Tennessean Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said he would support a "surgical" strike against Syria for apparently using chemical weapons against its own people.
In a statement after a classified briefing with senior administration officials Thursday night, Corker, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said he could back only a measured response at this time.
"While I'm opposed to American boots on the ground in Syria, I would support surgical, proportional military strikes given the strong evidence of the Assad regime's continued use of chemical warfare," he said. "Whatever limited action is taken should not further commit the U.S. in Syria beyond the current strategy to strengthen the vetted, moderate opposition."
Corker said earlier this week he was prepared to support a surgical strike provided the intelligence briefings he received Thursday confirmed the use of chemical weapons.
Corker also said he agrees with a growing number of lawmakers from both parties that President Barack Obama should seek congressional approval before moving forward with any military action. He did not say the president is required to seek such approval, as some other lawmakers have contended.
"While the administration has engaged in congressional consultation, they should continue to be forthcoming with information and would be far better off if they seek authorization based upon our national interests, which would provide the kind of public debate and legitimacy that can only come from Congress," he said.
TN lawmakers agree
Several other Tennessee lawmakers said Obama must obtain congressional approval before striking Syria. They said they're not convinced such action is necessary.
GOP Reps. Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, John Duncan, Stephen Fincher, Chuck Fleischmann and Phil Roe are among more than 100 members of a bipartisan House coalition that has sent the White House a letter saying Obama needs authorization from Congress before striking at Syria.
While the Founding Fathers gave the president the ability to respond quickly to crises, they also expected "public debate" would be held to evaluate the proper response, according to the letter. Most of the lawmakers who signed the letter were Republicans, but more than a dozen Democrats joined as well.
"Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution," the letter read.
"The president needs to respect the Constitution and recognize that authority for action in Syria must come from Congress," Blackburn, R-Brentwood, said Thursday. "If the president deems that military action in Syria is necessary, I stand ready to return to Washington to allow the president the opportunity to state his case to my colleagues and the American people."
Another Republican House member, Scott DesJarlais of Jasper, said he wants the president to clearly outline for Congress the goals and objectives of a strike against Syria. Even then, DesJarlais said, he has little appetite for involvement in a conflict between a "despot" (Syrian President Bashar Assad) and rebels with suspected ties to al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The enemies of America in the Middle East would love nothing more than to drag us into another military conflict, causing us more damage financially and risking our personnel abroad," he said. "Unless there is solid intelligence to suggest that American interests need to be protected through our actions, I will continue to oppose military intervention."
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, also isn't keen on the idea of a strike.
"I'm extremely leery of any U.S. involvement in Syria," he said. "I doubt that U.S. airstrikes will help. Assad is a murderer to have used poison gas. Congress has a constitutional role to play, but we haven't found an answer to sequestration, much less Syria."
In a Tuesday briefing with reporters, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration has a "high degree of confidence" the Syrian regime used chemical weapons and the only question left is how the United States should respond.
Asked if the president must win congressional approval before acting, Carney said he would not engage in speculation because no specific course of action has been selected yet.
"We feel generally that it is essential to consult with leaders of Congress, and that is what we're doing in a matter like this, even as we engage in a process of evaluating the options available to us," he told reporters.
Like Corker, GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander said eh believes the president has a moral obligation to present his case to lawmakers.
"The president should consult with Congress on any plan to address the situation in Syria, and I don't want to see any action that gets our country into another long-term military commitment in the Middle East," Alexander said.