MOST MEMBERS OF CONGRESS STILL UNDECIDED ON SYRIA STRIKE

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4 of 5 local Congressional members not sure yet how they will vote; both CA Senators support military intervention

By Miriam Raftery

September 4, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Three days ago, NBC news reported that San Diego’s Congressional delegation had “mostly positive” reactions to news that President Obama had decided to ask Congresss for approval before waging a military air strike on Syria.  But a  poll by CNN of Congressional members found San Diego’s representatives remain mostly undecided on whether to vote for war or not.  Both California Senators, however, support the President’s call for military action.

Overall, the CNN poll found the majority in both houses of Congress have not yet committed how they will vote.  In the Senate, 24 Senators say that they will support the war declaration, 16 will oppose it, and 58 remain undecided. In the House, 27 support going to war, 91 oppose, 254 are undecided, and the positions of 61 others are unknown.

This is a rare issue in which the vote does not split down party lines. Both parties are split, with many members on each side of the weighty issue appearing ready to vote their consciences or the will of their constituents, not a party preference.

California Senator Barbara Boxer voted for the resolution on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Senator Dianne Feinstein has said that a meaningful response must be made to the Syrian president’s “heinous attack” that used chemical weapons on children and other innocent civilians.

Congressional members’ Susan Davis and Scott Peters, both Democrats, are undecided thus far, staffers told CNN. So are Republicans Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa.  Vargas, a Democrat, has indicated he supports the President’s proposal.

Each member has issued comments elaborating on their positions. 

“If in fact chemical weapons were used to kill these people then I think we have to act,” Vargas said at a press conference last week, NBC  TV in San Diego reported.  “Because if not then I think you’re going to see a larger, more emboldened group of people in this world wanting to use chemical weapons, maybe nuclear weapons, biological weapons. There has to be a price to pay.

Hunter is “leaning against” the measure, CNN reported. 

But on August 30, Hunter told Fox News that after a late August trip to a refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border,  he believed an air attack on Syria could be a “good thing.”

He stated,  “Cruise missiles can affect things like the Air Force. One of the things I learned over there is that Assad is winning. He is beating the opposition forces right now. So  If you were able to militarily degrade Assad’s Air Force or his armor, that would be a good thing….”  Degrading his conventional weapons would give rebel forces a better chance, he added., but made clear that the chemical weapons stash is hidden and would not be destroyed by the air strikes.

Issa stated on September 2 that to earn his vote, the President would need to present a “clear plan focused on effective humanitarian intervention or our national security interests.”

Davis issued a statement which read in part, “In the spirit of the President’s statement, I look forward to intense and rigorous meetings and debate prior to a vote of the Congress, which is the right thing to do.” She added. “It is unconscionable for a government to use chemical weapons against its own people. Making a decision on what is in the best interests of the American people will take thoughtful and cautious deliberation.”  

Peters’ statement noted the heavy toll America has paid in Iraq and Afghanistan, also weighing the suffering of Syria’s people including children.

“Reports that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, including children, are shocking. Acts like these are unconscionable and reprehensible. I understand President Obama’s concern that these atrocities not be ignored,” Peters said. ““As I consider the President’s request for support, I will need to determine our intended objective, the specific actions to be taken, the expected response, our exit strategy, and how these efforts will protect American interests both in the region and here at home. San Diegans have paid a particularly heavy price for our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. "That's why I welcome the President's call for Congressional input on this very serious matter.”

He added , “This debate will allow Congress and the American people to have more clarity on the facts that have been gathered and on what our commitments will be moving forward. I personally look forward to a fully informed discussion in the coming weeks.”

The California Democratic Party today released this statement on questions it wants to see answered on the Syria matter.

As Congress debates the resolution authorizing use of military force in Syria, here are the questions that must be asked and answered:

 

“Will the UN inspectors report be made public to the Congress and the American people before the vote to authorize military action? If one of our military strikes kills just as many men, women and children as the reported chemical weapons attack, what is our responsibility and how do we deal with that?  

If a Syrian missile hits one of our ships or planes and kills an American service member, what will be our response?”

The Republican Party has not issued a formal statement. But Republican House Speaker John Boehner has stated clearly, “"I am going to support the president's call for action,” adding, “The use of these weapons has to be responded to."  House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi has also indicated she supports the President’s plan.  

It remains to be seen whether Boehner can muster the votes in a GOP-controlled House split between hawks who argue that force beyond air strikes is needed and non-interventionists who oppose military action at all.