More than a week before President Obama asks them to authorize a military attack on Syria, members of the Minnesota congressional delegation are beginning to stake a position either for or against the strike.
Only Keith Ellison has come out to fully back a strike on Syria, something pushed by Obama after an alleged chemical weapons attack there on Aug. 21. Sen. Al Franken has indicated he’ll support a strike, while a trio of House members—Democrats Betty McCollum and Rick Nolan and Republican Michele Bachmann—is strongly opposed. The rest are either neutral, noncommittal, vague or otherwise keeping quiet so far.
Update, 5:35 p.m.: Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen released a statement signaling opposition to a strike. “I believe the president’s request for military action in Syria is too broad, too open-ended, too risky and does not identify a clear U.S. national interest for military engagement and putting U.S. troops in harm’s way,” he said.
Those calling for a strike hedge their bets somewhat, saying there must be evidence that the Bashar al-Assad regime turned chemical weapons on its own people in mid-August.
“If the facts warrant it, if the facts show that it was a gas attack authorized by the Assad regime, and if it’s true that there were 1,500 people killed,” Ellison said in a Saturday interview. ‘”I just don’t think the world can stand by and say that’s ok, that’s not our business, we don’t have to worry about it.”
But Obama has emphatically said it has that evidence, and has begun sharing it with lawmakers. Franken and at least Reps. Tim Walz, McCollum and Nolan are heading back to Washington on Sunday for a confidential briefing on the Obama administration’s evidence, which Republican Rep. John Kline’s office said he heard on Friday (Kline wouldn’t comment further).
Congress is set to reconvene Sept. 9 and consider a resolution calling for an attack on Syria. Obama said Saturday he believes the United States should strike Syria, and that plans were in place to do so, but he bowed to pressure from both within Congress and the public to let legislators have a say.
Lawmakers and analysts think the Democratically-controlled Senate will be able to pass the resolution, but, as is often the case in Washington, the House could be a different story.
That’s not to say a Syria strike is a strictly red-versus-blue issue; coalitions like the McCollum-Bachmann-Nolan troika show how groups of vastly-different lawmakers are coming together to either support or oppose further military action in the Middle East, which makes whipping votes in a chamber of 435 more difficult than usual.
Ellison broke down the factions thusly: There will be lawmakers who don’t consider Assad’s chemical weapons use serious enough to warrant U.S. response, and pacifists who will oppose military intervention no matter what. Others, like Ellison, will support Obama’s plans, and he contends there will be a group of lawmakers “that will do anything to embarrass the president” and oppose a strike.
House aides told Politico that they expect Congress to eventually sign off on a strike, though Ellison admitted, “I don’t know where the votes actually come down.”
Of course, Congress could follow the British Parliament’s example and oppose any military action, rebuking Obama. But unlike the UK, the Obama administration seems ready and willing to move forward even without Congress’s okay.
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry