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Sen. Angus King On Syria


President Trump did not seek congressional approval before the strikes in Syria. However, the administration did inform some members of Congress. Senator Angus King is an independent from Maine. He sits on the Armed Services Committee. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

ANGUS KING: Glad to be with you this morning.

SIMON: Did you know this was coming?

KING: Well, I think everybody knew something was coming. I did not have specific knowledge of the timing or the nature of the strike. But - so there may have been notification to the speaker and the majority leader but not to Congress generally.

SIMON: Do you feel that Congress should have had a chance to weigh in?

KING: I think it's very important to distinguish what the strike was and what it wasn't. It was specifically narrowly focused on chemical weapons and chemical weapons production. That's been out of bounds in military years for over a hundred years with a few exceptions. Had it been a more general strike on the Assad regime, an attempt to change the calculus in the civil war, I believe that would have definitely required congressional approval. But I think the narrow strike to maintain the principle that countries around the world have recognized for so long that chemical weapons are out of bounds, I don't think that was a case where congressional approval was necessary in advance. But had it been a different kind of strike with broader implications, I'm one of those - along with a group of others in the Senate - who strongly believe there needs to be congressional approval.

SIMON: Well, let me ask - I assume the president would have won that vote, right?

KING: Well, that's really hard to say. There hasn't been a vote in Congress to declare war since 1942. There have been a couple of these authorizations of military force such as the one after September 11.

SIMON: Yeah.

KING: But if the president was asking for congressional approval to intervene in the Syrian civil war, I think I could not predict the results of that vote. I think it would be...

SIMON: But I mean the...

KING: ...Close if not...

SIMON: ...The narrower strike that occurred last.

KING: The narrower strike, I think, on chemical weapons, there probably would be - would have been a favorable vote because most - this is a - this has nothing - in a sense, it's not Syria. We're against chemical weapons wherever and however they're used. So that kind of strike, I think, has a justification in international law and in history. But it's the idea of a - intervening in this tragic civil war, I think, is a much broader question.

SIMON: A while ago, Senator King, you were among those people in the Senate who supported greater support for Syrian rebels in the hope that they might be able to overturn the Assad regime. How do you feel about that now? Has the time for that opportunity passed? Does a strike like this promote that or have got nothing to do with it?

KING: I don't think it has much to do with, as I say, the overall calculus on the battlefield in the civil war. And I'm afraid you may be right. Clearly, the momentum at this point is with Assad. The critical moment was when Russia came in in support of the Assad regime. And then you add Iran, Hezbollah and the other support that they're getting, all you'd have to do is look at the map. Two years ago, the opposition controlled a great deal of the country. And now, that territory is narrowing. And the fight now, this alleged chemical attack, took place in the Damascus suburbs.

SIMON: So what should the U.S. strategic goal be as far as you're concerned?

KING: (Laughter) That is a very difficult question, and I think the Obama administration struggled and the Trump administration is struggling as to what our role should be. I feel that we - there was an opportunity for us to be more vigorous in our assistance to the opposition back two or three years ago. But as I say, when Russia and Iran came in in a big way, it became very difficult. And if we were going to try to enter now to change the balance, it would be - the danger of a conflict - of a direct conflict with Russia I think would be heightened. They did not respond last night and thus far don't appear to be responding militarily, but if they felt that we were coming in to try to change where - the direction of the civil war, then it would be a much more difficult decision. And I think, as I mentioned, it would be difficult to get the votes in Congress.

SIMON: Senator Angus King - an independent from the state of Maine who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

KING: Thank you, glad to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.