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Local Lawmakers Weigh Syria Issue

September 4, 2013 By:
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A day after leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives voiced support for a U.S. attack on Syria in advance of next week’s expected debate, most lawmakers representing Philadelphia-area districts from both parties appear hesitant to stake out a position.

President Barack Obama has faced harsh criticism in some quarters for seeking congressional approval, but the local lawmakers, by and large, say Obama did the right thing in bringing the debate before Congress.
 
On the Senate side, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, has already said he’d support a resolution to launch a strike in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons on his own people. His Republican counterpart, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, has said Assad’s actions deserve an American response, but hasn’t explicitly stated he’d vote for the use of force.
 
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony on the issue on Sept. 3, but the House doesn’t go back into session until Sept. 9. No dates for a vote have yet been scheduled.

Momentum for a strike appears to be picking up, but it is likely to be a tough vote that won’t break down easily along party lines. Neither side wants the United States to become embroiled in another Mideast conflict but, as several lawmakers have suggested, they also don’t want to give Syrian President Bashar Assad the green light to use chemical weapons again.

Republicans in particular seem to split between the party’s more activist wing and its members who are more reticent to use American power.

Democrats Allyson Schwartz, of Montgomery County, and Chaka Fattah, of Philadelphia, both put out statements commending the president’s decision to seek congressional approval but neither of them took a firm stand on whether or not they would ultimately offer support.

Schwartz, the state’s lone Jewish representative and a candidate for governor, said, “The president rightfully recognizes the importance of seeking congressional approval before taking military action.”

“As Congress weighs this important vote, I will engage with my colleagues and the administration to determine the best course of action to address the Syrian regime’s heinous disregard for human rights and protect our national security interests,” she said.

A spokesman for Schwartz on Wednesday reiterated that she had not yet decided her position.

Before Obama announced over the weekend that he would seek congressional approval for a limited military strike on Syria, he received a letter signed by 140 members of Congress asking him to do just that. Among those who signed the letter was U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Bucks County.

“While the United States should continue to stand with our international allies in condemning this alleged act as inspectors within Syria continue to investigate, the decision to use military force — in what is a complex and quickly changing conflict —should not be made hastily,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

His Republican colleague from Delaware County, U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, used his Twitter handle to seek advice from his constituents.

“Congress will face important vote on response to use of chem weapons by Syrian regime. Would like to hear your thoughts on the issue,” he tweeted.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who heads Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, said he is reserving judgment at this time.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, who is based in Chester County, said in a statement that he looks foward to debating the issue.

On the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan, a Republican, expressed strong reservations about using U.S. military force.

“I know both Republicans and Democrats will have strong concerns about U.S. engagement in what many view as a civil war, and whether doing so is truly in our national security interests,” he said in a statement.

Democrat Rob Andrews said that he is "very skeptical that we should involve our troops in the middle of anyone's civil war. I welcome all views and opinions as we go forward.

"The President has correctly decided to go to the Congress for authorization for any strike against Syria. I will review all of the relevant intelligence, listen to my constituents and evaluate what is right for the security of the country."

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and currently N.J.'s only senator, has said publicly a strike on Syria is necessary.

A spokesman for Casey, an Obama ally who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that deals with the Middle East, said he would vote to authorize the use of force against Syria.

Earlier, the senator said in a statement that he wished the congressional debate on Syria had started sooner.

“Last November, I called for a more assertive approach to the conflict in Syria because I believe the Assad regime is a threat to both regional stability and the United State’s broader national security interests,” Casey said. 

“I believe that it is in the U.S. national security interest to respond to this most recent chemical attack,” he added. “I appreciate the administration's efforts to consult with Congress about the situation.
 

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