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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is one of three Senate Democrats calling on the president to explain his legal rationale for threatening to bomb Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack. (Photo: Senate Democrats/Flickr/cc)

Democratic Senators Demand Trump Provide Legal Justification to Attack Syria

Three lawmakers warn that striking Syria risks "the possibility of escalation into a broader conflict."

While House Democrats call for checks on President Donald Trump's military powers, citing fears of "war by tweet," three senators reportedly sent a letter to the White House on Friday to demand that Trump explain the legal rationale behind his threats to bomb Syria, which lawmakers and experts have argued would be unconstitutional.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), minority whip and vice chairman of the Defense appropriations subcommittee; Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee directly addressed Trump in their letter.

"Given your public statements and those of other members of the administration related to potential military action in Syria," the senators wrote, "we ask that you promptly provide the legal basis for any potential or anticipated military action in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime in Douma on April 7."

"As part of your response," they continued, "we also ask that you fully explain any limiting principles on the use of the U.S. military to conduct military action absent a specific authorization for the use of military force by the Congress."

They also noted that "the use of U.S. military capabilities to conduct offensive action against another nation is a momentous decision that poses serious risks to the lives of U.S. military personnel involved and the possibility of escalation into a broader conflict."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that although no final decision has been made, the president is "confident" that the Syrian government "had responsibility" in last weekend's suspected chemical weapons attack and that the administration also plans to "hold Russia responsible for their failure to stop chemical weapons attacks from taking place."

No reliable evidence has been presented—by the White House or any other authorities—that the Russian-backed Syrian government was responsible for the attack.

In response to Trump's recent threats and amid mounting concerns that U.S. aggression toward Russia could heighten the potential for a nuclear exchange, peace advocates, members of Congress, international law experts, and at least one former president have urged the president to exercise restraint.

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