Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood, east of Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations on Sunday to allow a U.N. team of experts to visit the site of alleged chemical weapons attacks last week outside Damascus, state media said. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
As the debate intensifies over what kind of action should be taken in reaction to the apparent chemical attack by loyalists linked to Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier this month which left hundreds dead, U.S. Latino lawmakers are offering next steps according to party line.
Sen. Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, backs limited military action.
“I do not see a compelling case not to act at the end of the day,” said Menendez in an interview with MSNBC. “There’s always risk. Look, nothing in Syria is easy. But if you permit a global message that the use of chemical weapons can be done with impunity, then I think you are buying yourself a much bigger challenge in the world.”
Menendez, who met with Secretary of State John Kerry this week to discuss Syria, rejected the idea of the United States pursuing regime change.
"To the extent that anyone should seek regime change, it should be the vetted Syrian rebels that ultimately want to fight for freedom in their own country,” he said.
Congressman Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, said he’s firmly opposed to sending troops to Syria, but he would back American air strikes.
“I would not be an advocate for putting boots on the ground in Syria or committing troops, but I am open to military strikes or the use of military force to make sure that the Assad regime doesn't commit the kind of grotesque actions against innocent civilians that they have recently,” Castro said at a Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce luncheon, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Republican lawmakers, such as U.S. Rep. Ileana Roz-Lehtinen, and Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, were adamant that the president must get Congressional approval before acting on Syria.
They also blamed Obama for not acting sooner against Assad and letting the situation in Syria worsen.
Ros-Lehtinen, who is from Florida and is chairperson of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, said if the president made the case for action, she could agree to a joint air strike along with NATO allies against the Assad regime.
“Putting boots on the ground is not an option, but the time has come for us to consider – in conjunction with our allies – multilateral air strikes against the murderous Assad regime and its infrastructure,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “However, this decision cannot be made unilaterally by the President like what we saw in Libya. He has an obligation under the Constitution and the War Powers Act to receive Congressional authority prior to engaging our military in Syria.”
Nearly 80 percent of Americans agree, according to an NBC News poll published Friday. The vast majority of those polled said Obama should seek congressional approval before taking any military action in Syria.
Overall, 50 percent of Americans say they oppose the United States taking military action against Assad, and 42 percent support it, according to the poll.
Ros-Lehtinen assailed the president for not acting sooner and more decisively.
“We’re stuck with the least worst option,” she said. “Had we gotten involved in Syria early on when Assad began his onslaught against his people and supported those who stood against him and called for freedom and democracy, we might not be faced with such difficult decisions today.”
Cruz, of Texas, said Obama has equivocated on Assad and the situation in Syria, calling it dire at times but sending out the message at others that a military strike would have limited beneficial results. He said such mixed messages raises concerns in Congress about supporting a military strike.
“Given this modest mandate and uncertain outcome, Congress has every right to ask why we are considering this action at all?” Cruz asked in a press release.
But if he does go ahead and decide to take action, Cruz added, the president should no do it without having Congress on board first.
"When and if President Obama makes a decision on Syria, he must immediately call a special session of Congress and persuade the American people that what he proposes is critical to the defense of our nation.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente