President Trump’s decision to strike an Assad airfield drew swift praise Thursday night from Republican senators who had urged him to take action in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. They said it sends an “important message” to the regime.
“Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action,” Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a joint statement.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Trump “has made it clear to Assad and those who empower him that the days of committing war crimes with impunity are over.”
The statements came as the U.S. launched dozens of cruise missiles at a Syria airfield in response to the chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians. It was the first direct strike on the Assad government since the start of the country’s civil war. The base targeted is believed to be the point from where Tuesday’s chemical attack was staged.
“We salute the skill and professionalism of the U.S. Armed Forces who carried out tonight’s strikes in Syria. Acting on the orders of their commander-in-chief, they have sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs,” McCain and Graham said in a statement.
The strikes – a military response that was quickly put into action – are sure to touch off a revived debate over whether Congress should approve a formal authorization for use of force. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., already has called on Trump to ask Congress “for a proper debate.”
“The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution,” he tweeted.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., called on Trump to present his case for military action to Congress.
"Any military action in Syria must be justified as protecting the vital national security interests of America – including decisive action to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of radical Islamic terrorists," Cruz said in a statement.
For the near-term, more hawkish lawmakers praised Trump for taking a step his predecessor did not – a strike on the Assad government in response to a chemical weapons attack, which former President Barack Obama once described as a “red line.” Obama did not respond with military force, and instead struck a deal meant to remove the Assad government’s chemical weapons capability.
McCain and Graham on Thursday called the strikes on Assad a “credible first step,” while calling to follow through with a “new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria. The first measure in such a strategy must be to take Assad’s air force—which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people—completely out of the fight.”
Earlier Thursday, McCain and Graham had called for “grounding” Assad’s air force.