Alex Witt   |  August 31, 2013

Dem Rep: Briefing Congress on Syria feels like ‘an afterthought’

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., talks to Alex Witt about the need for an explanation from the Obama administration about the scope of U.S. intervention in Syria. Garamendi says the president should not make a decision without consulting Congress. Threat-wise, Garamendi says, “There is nothing imminent here.”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> of the house armed services committee . representative, thank you for joining me.

>> good to be with you, alex.

>> i know that you, sir, have voiced your belief that the president needs to seek authorization of congress before taking military action . did you hear anything yesterday from either the president or secretary kerry to change your mind on that?

>> no, not at all. the constitution of the united states is very clear, congress has the authority and the obligation to declare war , and you just heard a long explanation of a war act. we've got five cruisers, or destroyers, we've got missiles already to go. that's an act of war . and congress has the authority, the responsibility under the constitution to declare war . we have been brushed aside too long. the 535 people elected by the american public have that responsibility. we ought to be called to session. the president ought to tell speaker boehner and leader reid and the senate come back, we need to take up this issue. we need a full explanation. but apparently it isn't going to happen and once again, the constitution's being pushed aside, the power of the presidency is proceeding and we are going to war. limited but nonetheless, we are going to war.

>> sir, we have gotten word here at nbc news that the white house has called for a meeting of all of congress on capitol hill tomorrow. have you yet gotten word about that and if so, would you be able to attend that meeting?

>> well, isn't that a nice act. i have not heard a thing about it. there has been no communication to my office. i learn about it on this program. will i attend? i'm going to find out what's going on. i would love to have somebody officially tell us that this is going to happen. but the point here is far, far more broad than that. this is about the constitution. this is about war. this is about the power to declare war . that's the congressional power. we need a full explanation of this. there are so many unanswered questions that are out there. perhaps a classified briefing would help, maybe not, but listen, it looks to me from all that i just heard on your report just a few moments ago, hey, we're going to war. limited, hopefully, but we're going to war. we have not had that briefing prior to this. it's almost as though as an afterthought, oh, yeah, maybe we ought to tell congress . it's not going to work to the benefit of this president or to this long-term republican democracy that we have. united kingdom , they took the time. cameron took the time to take to the parliament the question of the united kingdom , great britain, going to war, and they said no. maybe we would say yes. maybe we would say no. but this is, after all, a democracy.

>> sir, is there an ability for you to distinguish between war and a tactical surgical strike, particularly on the heels of what secretary of state kerry said yesterday. he made a very compelling humanitarian case here. is there a difference in your mind between what the secretary is laying out and war?

>> no. there is no difference at all. you're launching missiles. you're talking about 50 missiles on each one of five destroyers, you're talking about a potential second attack. that's an act of war under any definition. now, if you want to play games, you want to get the lawyers in, sure, go ahead. the war powers act is quite clear. the president does have the power if there is an imminent threat . there is nothing imminent here. this is a punishment action. this could wait a few days. this could wait. but apparently it's not going to.

>> but sir, you say that it could wait. would you be more comfortable with the thought of launching tomahawk missiles from these four to five ships in the mediterranean after congress says go ahead? i mean, the entire big picture what's happening here potentially, are you more comfortable with that if congress says go?

>> certainly. that's the constitutional responsibility of the 535 members of congress , senate and house, that have that constitutional responsibility to declare war . and in fact, this is an act of war . we have done this in the past. it was done after 9/11 with the authorization use of force , it has been ignored far too often and we've had presidents simply assuming that they have the authority to go launch missiles or invade grenada or whomever else willy-nilly, perhaps with good reason, perhaps not, but it is the people of the united states and their representatives that have that authority. and it ought to be exercised. but apparently, the president is simply blowing past us, give us an opportunity to fly into washington tomorrow, hear a classified briefing, and then he's going to go do what he wants to do. well, that's not the way the constitution says it's supposed to happen.

>> i would like you to listen with me to a bit more of what secretary of state kerry said yesterday. let's take a listen.

>> it is directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the united states when it says something, they are watching to see if syria can get away with it, because then maybe they, too, can put the world at greater risk.

>> to that end, do you consider this a legitimate concern at all, that if this president does not act militarily, that our credibility on the world stage is damaged?

>> you notice the words the secretary used, he talked about america. he talked about the country. he didn't talk about just the president. the credibility of the united states is an issue. i agree with that. but also, wouldn't it be better if he had the entire congress supporting him instead of those of us that say wait a minute, we need to understand what's going on here, we need to have all of the information and we also need to learn about the unintended consequences of launching missiles. there are serious questions out there. yes, the credibility of the united states is at stake, and yes, the constitution is also.

>> representative garamendi, thank you for your time.

>> thank you.