Here’s What Philly’s Congress Members Think About Trump’s Airstrikes on Syria

We've lumped reactions into three categories: those who oppose the missile attack, those who support it and those who offered vague or otherwise insufficient answers.

trump, syria

President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A number of local Congress members have weighed in on President Donald Trump’s decision to order a missile attack on Syria.

In a speech last night, Trump said the airstrike was issued – without Congressional approval – in response to a chemical weapons attack earlier this week that is widely believed to have been carried out by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. That attack reportedly resulted in the death of at least 80 Syrian civilians. 

“It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said last night.

Several local Congress members have weighed in on Trump’s decision, and most touched on whether or not they would have supported the missile attack if Trump had sought approval.

We’ve lumped reactions from local Congress members into three categories: those who oppose the missile attack, those who offered vague or otherwise insufficient answers, and those who are supportive of the missile attack.

In opposition:

U.S. Representative Dwight Evans said he does not support the attack, stating that “dropping missiles is one thing,” but he does not think the war in Syria can be “solved strictly by the United States.”

“I think it needs to at least come to Congress and that we should be participating in this discussion,” Evans said, before adding that Trump’s position on U.S. involvement in Syria reversed quickly – “like it happened just in the last 24 hours.”

“It’s clear to me that there doesn’t appear to be a strategy,” Evans added. “There doesn’t appear to be an end game … where are we going? What are we going to do? And it’s questionable, in my view, for the president to take this action without, well – what are you laying out as the plan? Where do you see us going?”

Unclear responses:

A spokesman for Sen. Pat Toomey referred to a statement the senator released last night and did not answer questions regarding whether or not Toomey would have supported the missile attack had Trump sought congressional approval.

Toomey’s statement from last night:

“The Assad regime’s latest chemical weapon attack on innocent men, women and children is horrific and appalling. Over 400,000 Syrians have been killed so far, with millions more displaced. The civilized world has to respond. If the United Nations does not take appropriate action, then the United States must.”

In support:

Rep. Brendan Boyle released a statement last night on the missile attack, calling for Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to “immediately recall members of Congress into an emergency session to debate and vote on our policy toward Syria … Congress must not abdicate this responsibility.”

Asked if he would have supported the missile strike had Trump sought approval from Congress, Rep. Boyle seemed supportive, though his answer was a little vague:

“If these airstrikes were limited and just to degrade Assad’s ability to launch another chemical attack upon civilians, then I would be supportive. But moving forward, Congress needs to stop ducking this issue and finally construct, along with the Administration, a strategic policy on Syria.”

Reached by phone this morning, Congressman Robert Brady told reporter Holly Otterbein that he “absolutely” would have approved the missile attack if “other countries would have gotten behind us” and Trump had asked Congress for support.

“I see the pictures and all the babies,” Brady said, referring to graphic images of the chemical weapons attack, which could have helped shifted Trump’s stance. “It’s a disgrace. But I wished he would either have talked to us … he should have talked to us – us being Congress. And I would have liked us to not being doing it by ourselves. It would have been nice if [other countries] all got together and agreed to do it.”

In a statement released this morning, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said he supports the missile attack – which he called “an appropriate and proportionate response to a heinous attack by the Assad regime on Syrian civilians” – but said further action from Trump requires Congressional authorization and that the president should “outline for the American people a strategy for how this action will move us closer to a political transition in Syria while also advancing the Coalition fight against ISIS.”

Casey also used the opportunity to comment on the president’s executive order barring travel for Syrian refugees.

Casey’s full statement:

“The targeted actions taken last night are an appropriate and proportionate response to a heinous attack by the Assad regime on Syrian civilians. As I have said before, Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal who has starved, barrel bombed, and besieged the Syrian people for more than six years. The horrible attack this week was not the first time that he has used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. His regime needs to be held accountable for their crimes.

I believe the President must outline for the American people a strategy for how this action will move us closer to a political transition in Syria while also advancing the Coalition fight against ISIS. I believe there is no purely military solution to the conflict in Syria, and I continue to oppose the large scale deployment of U.S. ground forces. In the coming days, I’ll be pressing the Administration for a full strategy that addresses the ISIS fight as well as the political situation in Syria.

 Russia and Iran also need to be held accountable for their continued support of the Assad regime, and my bipartisan legislation with Senator Rubio, the Preventing Destabilization of Iraq and Syria Act of 2017, is essential to achieving that goal. The President should also accelerate humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and seriously reconsider his discriminatory travel ban that would deny the Syrian women and children who are victims of this terrible violence the opportunity to resettle safely in the U.S. after appropriate vetting by our government.

Further, I believe it’s incumbent on the Administration to seek a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) if it intends to take any further military action. I called on the Obama Administration to do the same – the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs are outdated and don’t reflect today’s realities and threats. Members of Congress have a responsibility to debate these actions and cast a vote on an AUMF if the President plans to continue military action.”

Officials said that last night 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at Syrian fighter jets, aircraft shelters, storage sights and radar equipment at the Al Shayrat airfield, where the Syrian government’s chemical attack was launched. A Syrian state news agency claimed this morning that nine civilians, including four children, were killed in the U.S. missile attack.

Officials from Russia and Iran have condemned the attack. According to the New York Times, it was the first time the White House had ordered military action against forces loyal to Assad, a controversial leader who has overseen the country during its six-year civil war and its long-standing war against ISIS.

The decision reflects an about-face for Trump, who according to CNN, said just days before the election that Hillary Clinton wanted “to start a shooting war in Syria… that could very well lead to World War III.” In 2013, Trump had attempted to discourage former President Barack Obama from engaging in a missile attack in Syria.

What is unquestionably controversial is Trump’s failure to seek approval from Congress – an act that he once referred to as “a big mistake.”

Staff writer Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.

Follow @ClaireSasko and @HollyOtterbein on Twitter.