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Sen. Jeff Flake On Syria And Authorizing Military Force


President Trump's order for missile strikes on the Syrian air base from which planes took off to launch what the U.S. says was a chemical attack on Syrian civilians seems to have support in both parties. But the president's decision also seems to reverse the policy on which he campaigned in which his secretary of state repeated just a few days before the chemical attack on the Idlib province of Syria. Jeff Flake is a Republican senator from Arizona and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

JEFF FLAKE: Thanks for having me on.

SIMON: Since 2014, you and Senator McCain have been pushing for the Senate to pass a bill to authorize the use of military force in Syria. Should President Trump have gotten Senate authorization before he ordered those strikes?

FLAKE: I don't believe so. It's tough to have a strike where you reserve the surprise that you need when you go for authorization. That's why the Constitution allows, you know, and the War Powers Act allows the administration to act and then to come to Congress within 60 days if further action is needed.

SIMON: Do you think further action is needed against the Syrian government?

FLAKE: We'll see. Obviously, the strike, as it was presented, was to deter and degrade their ability to launch another chemical attack. And I would assume that there was plenty of deterrence there.

SIMON: Senator Flake, you're on the Foreign Relations Committee. Even some Republicans have questioned President Trump's credibility on a number of issues. Do you have any doubt that his information on Syria that he's giving the American people is correct?

FLAKE: You know, we just had a classified briefing, and I'm convinced that the information that he was acting on is a consensus of the intelligence community.

SIMON: Senator Flake, how can President Trump order U.S. military action in defense of Syrians dying in a chemical weapons attack but still want to keep Syrians from immigrating to the United States?

FLAKE: I can only speak for myself. I've been critical of the administration's travel ban and the talk about keeping Syrian refugees out. I think that we have a responsibility to accept refugees, who we can't assume that our allies will, but turn them away ourselves.

SIMON: Would you like to bring this to President Trump's attention again?

FLAKE: I'm certainly going to continue to encourage the administration to resume the acceptance of Syrian refugees, that we should be so lucky in this country if everyone who entered the country was screened and vetted as well as refugees. And it's tough to see women and particularly children treated as they are in Syria and not want to help them.

SIMON: Senator Flake, you're also on the Judiciary Committee. I've got to ask you a Supreme Court question. In the middle of all this breaking news, Judge Gorsuch was confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice on Friday, 54 to 45. You voted for Justice Gorsuch. Will the Senate, though, regret changing the rules to allow a confirmation with less than 60 votes?

FLAKE: I think we'll regret the entire last decade or so and what the Senate has become. You know, prior to 2003, I believe it was, nobody ever filibustered a new Supreme Court nominee nominated by a president. I happened to be in Washington in 1987 as an intern in the Senate and watched the Judge Bork hearings there. And as controversial as he was, not one senator - and it would have only taken one - filibustered. So what we've done is make du jour what was de facto prior to 2003. I hope it means that we can move ahead with more bipartisanship in the future.

SIMON: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

FLAKE: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.