Syria military action should go to vote in Congress, lawmakers say

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - The White House has provided a series of briefings for key lawmakers over the past 24 hours, trying to combat complaints that Congress is not being consulted on a potential U.S. strike in Syria. Still, many members want more: They want any military action to be put to a vote first.

But their own schedule makes that unlikely. Congress has been gone for a month and doesn't return to Washington for a week and a half.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)
CBS News

That didn't stop more than 160 House members - Democrats and Republicans - from signing letters this week urging the president to "receive authorization from Congress" before striking Syria.

Elliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, says there isn't time for that.

"There's clearly a precedent where the president can act and then come to Congress later on, or come to Congress certainly within 60 days," he told CBS News. "So I am comfortable with that. I think when you have situations like this you have to act swiftly."

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In a telephone town hall with constituents Friday, Senate Republican Lindsey Graham argued the president has said too much already.

"This idea of telling the Syrians when we're gonna attack, how we're gonna attack, what we're gonna attack with and when we're gonna stop is just crazy to me," he said. "It's absurd."

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.)
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.)
CBS News

Most leaders of the relevant national security committees support limited strikes and say the president can't erase the red line he drew.

"The problem that he finds himself in and that he's placed us in is that if he does not take action now, after making these statements, then we become a paper tiger to the rest of the world," said Republican Buck McKeon, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.

But among the general membership of Congress, there is more opposition to military action, and that's why Congress' absence has worked in favor of the White House, which is eager to avoid the same embarrassment that befell Britain's prime minister when Parliament unexpectedly voted against striking Syria.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.

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