WASHINGTON – Maine Sen. Susan Collins was among six Republicans who dined with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden Sunday night as the White House stepped up its efforts to win congressional support for military strikes against Syria.
Collins and the other Republican senators – including New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte – had been invited to dinner with Biden at the vice president’s residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Obama then made an unannounced visit just after 7 p.m. and spent about an hour and 20 minutes with the senators, according to a White House press pool report.
The gathering was part of the Obama administration’s full-court press to convince skeptical members of Congress to support a resolution authorizing military force against the Syrian government. The Senate is tentatively slated to vote on a revised resolution this week. The fate of that resolution remains unclear, however, with so many senators undecided and bipartisan opposition growing in the House.
The White House did not comment on the dinner other than to release a statement Sunday evening saying “the president dropped by the dinner that the vice president hosted for Republican senators.”
In addition to Collins and Ayotte, the other Republican senators in attendance were Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Sen. Rob Corker of Tennessee and Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska. The group ate “Italian food served family style,” according to a pool report.
Collins’ office had not commented on the dinner as of early Monday morning.
Like many members of Congress, Collins has said she is still undecided on the proposal for targeted strikes against the Syrian government.
Collins said last week that she has few doubts that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind chemical weapons attacks on its own citizens on Aug. 21. The Republican attended several classified briefings for Senate Intelligence Committee members last week and has met with several top administration and intelligence officials.
But Collins has said she is unsure whether targeted U.S. military strikes will achieve the desired objective of sending a strong signal to Assad and other regimes – including Iran – that use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. Instead, Collins said she is concerned that Syria or its allies could respond by targeting Israel or other American interests and that the U.S. could be dragged into a broader conflict.
“So a key question for me is what would happen if he decides to prove the military strikes did not eliminate his capability and he decides to launch another attack?” Collins said in an interview Thursday. “It appears the administration’s answer to that is they would likely launch another strike. That is one of my concerns, that we might be drawn further and further into a protracted civil war.”
Two other members of Maine’s congressional delegation – independent Sen. Angus King and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-District 2 – have said they are still undecided on the Syria issue while Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, is leaning toward voting against the current resolution authorizing military force.
The majority of calls and emails to delegation members have been opposed to U.S. intervention.
Obama is expected to continue his all-out effort to win support from Congress and the public this week by conducting numerous television interviews, meeting with lawmakers and delivering a prime-time speech Tuesday night.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at (207) 317-6256 or at: