(CNSNews.com) - The 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) give President Trump the authority to take military action against Syria, House Speaker Paul Ryan and CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in different settings on Thursday.
On Friday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) disagreed with them, saying, "If the president launches missile strikes against Syria without coming to Congress, it's illegal."
Both President Trump and former President Barack Obama have taken military action against sovereign nations under the 2001-02 AUMFs.
Kaine has consistently urged Congress to approve a new AUMF, even when Barack Obama was president. But now a growing number of lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, agree with him.
At a news conference on Thursday, Speaker Ryan said Trump "has the authority under the existing AUMF" to take military action against Syria:
"What I would hate to do in this time, when we have asymmetric threats all across the globe, particularly with ISIS, is to have an AUMF that...ties the hands of our military behind their backs. So the last thing I want to see is an AUMF that makes it much more difficult for our military to respond to keep us safe, because they have the authority to do that right now," Ryan said.
"As to Syria itself, Bashar Assad and his enablers in Tehran and Moscow have committed another mass atrocity on people in -- in Syria. I think the U.S. has an obligation to lead an international response to hold people accountable for that.
"I won't get ahead of the president," Ryan continued. "He is taking a very deliberate and careful response and approach to this. We've discussed this, and I don't want to get ahead of … what he's going to plan on doing. Only to say that I think it's important for us to help lead the international community to making sure that people are held accountable for these mass atrocities."
In response to a follow-up question, Ryan repeated: "With respect to the authorities, the existing AUMF gives him (Trump) the authority he needs to do what he may or may not do."
At his confirmation hearing on Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo -- nominated to serve as Secretary of State -- was asked if he thinks the current AUMFs should be updated.
"I do," Pompeo said. "I do believe that it is important that we achieve that, that we have a new set of leaders in the United States Congress who also provide that authorization. I think the one that we have works. I think it provides the authorities that the president needs today, but I would welcome working alongside you to achieve, I think you used the term 'refreshed,' AUMF.”
"Paul Ryan is wrong," Sen. Tim Kaine told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday. "We've given the president, through the 2001 and ‘02 AUMFs, the power to fight against non-state terrorist organizations if they can be somehow connected to the bombing of 9/11. But Syria as a nation was not connected to the bombing of 9/11. Syria has not declared war on the United States. There's no international legal justification for carrying out a war on Syrian soil.”
“Is Bashar al-Assad a dictator? Absolutely,” Kaine said. Should we use tough action, including military action, to stop him from using chemical weapons against civilians? We sure should. But not without a vote of Congress.”
Kaine said he and others have been working on a new AUMF that would clarify U.S. military actions against non-state terrorist groups but specify that such authorization does not apply to military action against a sovereign nation.
The 2001 AUMF says in part: “The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
The 2002 AUMF says in part: “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”