WASHINGTON — If a Russia-backed plan to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control turns out to the “breakthrough” President Obama said it might be Monday, it would take a lot of pressure off lawmakers facing the prospect of voting on military action there as early as this week.
The Senate was scheduled to take a test vote on a Syria resolution on Wednesday, and though congressional action has now been delayed, many members — and most Minnesotans — have tipped their hand as to how they stand on a military strike.
By the Washington Post’s count (as of Tuesday), 247 House members and 35 in the Senate have come out firmly against such a resolution; only 26 in the House are firm “ayes,” along with 25 in the Senate. Most are either undecided or leaning no (and all who are leaning vote that way, the Post projects a defeat in the House).
From Minnesota, four lawmakers have committed to opposing military action and two have said they’re supportive of limited action at least. The rest are still weighing their options. This list (which we’ll update between now and the final vote, if there is one) is a run-down of where the state’s delegation stands, in principle, on a strike in Syria.
Take this list with a big caveat: We don’t know for sure what members of the House will be voting on. The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee has sent its version of a Syria attack resolution to the floor, but no such version exists in the House, yet. Some members (like Rep. Betty McCollum, for example) have said they back narrow military resolutions, but have concerns about a broader plan. The final language will be key for helping many members make up their mind.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D)
McCollum said on Sept. 5 that she’d back a narrow Syria strike.
“This atrocity violates the most basic international standards of acceptable behavior, even in war, and it is too egregious to ignore,” McCollum said in a statement. “President Obama is correct — a forceful, coordinated international response to the Assad regime’s crimes is needed. Yet, an open-ended, poorly defined authorization for the use of military force is not acceptable to me, but neither is the prospect of doing nothing in the face of this evil act against innocent civilians.”
Sen. Al Franken (D)
Franken has supported a strike on Syria since before Obama announced he’d ask Congress to authorize one — though he said Tuesday he’s undecided on the specific Senate resolution that would do so. (Note: A previous version of this piece said Franken opposed the resolution. That was incorrect, and has been fixed)
Franken has said he’s gathering as much information about a possible military strike, and that he’d consider voting for a narrow resolution to that end. But of the Senate resolution, which puts a 90-day limit on hostilities and bars U.S. ground forces in the conflict, Franken said Tuesday he was “concerned that its scope is too broad.”
Franken said he hopes a diplomatic path forward emerges, but, “if instead, the United States is compelled to take action in response to the Assad regime’s horrific use of chemical weapons, our response must be narrowly tailored as I have said all along, and we must have assurance that this will not spiral into a prolonged engagement in the region.”
“I continue to believe that the use of chemical weapons is a violation of a longstanding international norm and warrants a response,” he said, “but I want to know more about the details of that response and its scope before I decide whether to support or oppose this or any resolution in the U.S. Senate.”
(Updated at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday)
Rep. Keith Ellison (D)
Ellison has said he’d back a strike on Syria “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.”
In a Sunday interview with WCCO, he indicated that he would support “a limited strike and that it should be no more than 60 days, no American boots on the ground. It should be designed to degrade the chemical weapons capability of the Assad regime.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D)
Klobuchar has said she believes there needs to be some type of response to chemical weapons use, but her office said Monday she’s still considering whether she’d vote to authorize a strike, especially given the news about a potential international solution on Monday.
“Sen. Klobuchar believes today’s proposal to require Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control is a positive development as she has long advocated for working with the international community,” spokeswoman Brigit Helgen said. “She is continuing to review the Senate resolution and other proposals before Congress. She continues to strongly believe we should not have American troops on the ground in Syria.”
Rep. Erik Paulsen (R)
Paulsen co-sponsored a resolution on Tuesday calling for an international war crimes tribunal to punish those in Syria who used chemical weapons. He said he opposed to any military plans in the region.
“I have not supported the president’s request, I don’t think any objectives are clear, I’ve got concerns about getting involved in a Syrian civil war, and first and foremost,” he said. “I’ll look at anything that comes before me, but what I have before me right now, I do not support.”
After Obama announced he’d send a Syria resolution to Congress, Paulsen said he was concerned the president’s military plans were “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.”
But even after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a more narrow resolution, Paulsen told the Star Tribune he was probably going to oppose military action anyway. He said the international community should charge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with war crimes rather than launch an attack against him.
(Updated 8:30 a.m. Wednesday)
Rep. John Kline (R)
Kline told Minnesota Public Radio last week that he could support some type of military action against Syria, though he would need to see the details of both the resolution Congress would be voting on and the actual military plan against Syria.
But he announced on Tuesday that he would oppose a strike because, “The President has failed to convey to the American people a clear objective for military intervention in Syria.”
“He continues to offer no persuasive rationale, which is why I cannot support the President’s request at this time for U.S. military strikes in Syria,” Kline said.
(Updated: 2:15 p.m. Tuesday)
Rep. Tim Walz (D)
After weighing his options for more than a week, and a public hearing Friday in which his constituents told him to oppose a strike, Walz said Monday that he’ll do just that.
“While I believe the use of chemical weapons is despicable and the world must take action to ensure that cruel dictators are not allowed to use such weapons without repercussions,” Walz said in a statement, “at this time I cannot in good conscience support current proposals to take unilateral, military action.”
Walz’s office said he was concerned about “unforeseen consequences” that might escalate American military involvement.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D)
In a Sept. 3 statement, Peterson said: “I don’t see how U.S. military action will accomplish anything toward ending the turmoil over there or helping the people of Syria which is my main concern.”
He called the chemical attack there “deplorable,” and that he would listen to case made by those who support an attack, but, “[a]long with my constituents, I am opposed to intervention.”
Rep. Rick Nolan (D)
Nolan has been one of the most outspoken Democrats opposed to a military strike in Syria, saying it would be too costly, too dangerous and get the United States involved in a conflict with no desirable winner, from a U.S. perspective.
Obama administration officials have tried to make their case to Nolan (he received a call from Chief of Staff Denis McDonough last week, and said Secretary of State John Kerry had offered him a private meeting), but he’s said the administration’s case for striking the region isn’t entirely convincing.
“You should never go into war with a high level of confidence that your information is correct,” he said on Sept. 3. “You better have absolute, certain information if you’re going to war, you better damn well know what all the hard facts are, not a ‘high degree of confidence’ in them.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R)
Bachmann has long opposed any type of American involvement in the Syrian civil war, and she said last week that an American strike “would only make the situation worse.”
During a trip to the Middle East, Bachmann said she’s worried the civil war could bubble over into a regional conflict if the United States gets involved, and she said she doesn’t see a clear American interest in getting involved in the first place.
“From a United States perspective, the very first question that has to be answered is, number one: What is the identifiable, vital American national security interest?” she said Sept. 5. “Well, there isn’t one. You can’t find one. Number two: We have to ask, what is our plan for victory? And in the case of defeat, what’s our plan for exit? None of that has been addressed.”