September 1, 2013

Maine delegation not ready to endorse military strike in Syria

Lawmakers back Obama's decision to seek authorization from Congress, but do not yet favor military action.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - Members of Maine's congressional delegation applauded President Obama's decision Saturday to seek authorization from Congress for the use of military force against Syria but were not ready to endorse a military strike -- at least not yet.

Earlier in the week, most members of the delegation had called on Obama to at least consult with Congress before responding militarily against a Syrian government accused of using chemical weapons against its own people.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she strongly agreed with the president's decision to consult Congress, given the potential consequences of military action. Earlier Saturday, Collins participated in a briefing with Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and other top administration officials during which lawmakers asked about the effectiveness and implications of targeted strikes.

But in a carefully worded statement, Collins did not commit to supporting a military response.

"I hope that the president will encourage the leaders of the Senate and the House to reconvene next week to begin further consideration of the administration's plan immediately," said Collins, advocating for an earlier return than Congress' scheduled date of Sept. 9. "In the meantime, I will continue to receive both classified and unclassified briefings to evaluate the wisdom and feasibility of the president's plan and look forward to participating in the Senate debate."

First District Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree indicated that she is leaning toward opposing military strikes but did not rule out voting in favor of congressional authorization.

"I'm inclined to vote 'no' but will listen to the president and (am) glad he is seeking the approval of Congress," Pingree said through her office. Earlier in the week, Pingree's office had said the congresswoman does not believe there is any guarantee that U.S. military intervention will improve the situation in Syria.

Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, had said after a fact-finding trip to several of Syria's neighbors in July that the United States should consider targeted strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's "apparatus of terror." He and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who organized the trip, also called for training and arming "properly vetted" Syrian rebels.

On Saturday, King said the United States must be "extremely mindful of the ramifications of any actions we pursue."

Like Collins, King did not come out in support of military strikes.

"As we proceed with this important debate, it is crucial to me that the administration identifies regional coalition partners, sets out the intelligence case for concluding that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime as clearly as possible, and that it identifies its objectives and plans to achieve them with equal clarity," King said in a statement. "I will review the evidence and arguments with great care before deciding how I will vote on this difficult and important issue."

The office of 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who is running for governor of Maine in 2014, did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

Michaud and Pingree were among more than 50 House Democrats who signed a recent letter to Obama urging his administration to "seek an affirmative decision of Congress" before taking any military action. Another 140 Republicans and Democrats had signed onto a stronger-worded letter warning Obama that failure to receive congressional authorization would violate the Constitution.

"While the ongoing human rights violations and continued loss of life is unacceptable, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past," says the Democratic letter, likely referring to the inaccurate intelligence reports used to support the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. "We strongly support the work within the United Nations Security Council to build international consensus condemning the alleged use of chemical weapons; we should also allow the U.N. inspectors the space and time necessary to do their jobs, which are so crucial to ensuring accountability."

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.

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