UPDATED 3:13 PM PT – Friday, February 26, 2021
Democrats are questioning the legality of a Biden administration airstrike in Syria.
The U.S. military strike on Thursday targeted a site used by Iranian-backed militia groups in response to rocket attacks on American forces. It marked the first known action by the military under Joe Biden.
On Friday, the White House said the strikes were backed by the Constitution as well as the UN Charter. They added, the administration included a “rigorous process to include legal review of the strikes conducted.”
Officials said Biden used Article II of the Constitution to defend U.S. personnel and deter the risk of additional attacks.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the purpose of the strike was to both “make an impact” on the group’s ability to conduct future attacks, and to send a signal that the U.S. is going to protect its people.
“As we made clear last night, and I think through President Biden’s order, he made clear that the United States will act to protect American and coalition personnel and our security interests in the region,” Kirby stated.
However, the strike has divided Democrats who say Biden should have cleared the attack with them first.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Congress must be fully briefed on the matter, adding military action without congressional approval is not constitutional. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also said the strikes require congressional authorization and Congress should hold this administration to the same standards as previous administrations.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who has long opposed military action in the Middle East, said there is “no justification for a president to authorize a military strike” without seeking explicit authority from Congress.
We ran on ending wars, not escalating conflicts in the Middle East.
Our foreign policy needs to be rooted in diplomacy & the rule of law, not retaliatory air strikes without Congressional authorization. https://t.co/n3dOvu5xIU
— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) February 26, 2021
Even White House press secretary Jen Psaki was targeted after one of her tweets from 2017 resurfaced. In April of that year, Psaki questioned the legal authority for strikes in Syria after the Trump administration launched airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) retweeted Psaki, saying simply “great question.”
Great question. https://t.co/79K8uyzwGi
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 26, 2021
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Committee said the Pentagon briefed congressional leaders ahead of the strike.
The strike came as Washington and Tehran sparred over the possibility of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, a process already on shaky ground due to the demands of both sides. The White House said it will provide a full classified briefing on the strike to Congress in the coming week.