September 2, 2013

Maine delegation not ready to back attack on Syria

Sens. Collins and King and Rep. Michaud are each undecided about backing a strike at Syria in retaliation for nerve-gas use, while Rep. Pingree leans toward opposing military action.

By MICHAEL SHEPHERD Kennebec Journal

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U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud

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AUGUSTA - U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said Sunday that he doesn't know if he'll support a military strike on Syria, but he cautioned President Obama to abide by Congress' decision on potential action.

Obama said Saturday he will seek the authorization of Congress to begin military attacks on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Congress will likely consider the strikes, which would be in retaliation for Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people, later this month.

But Obama also said Saturday that he believes he has the power to authorize strikes with or without Congress' approval, a sentiment that could lead to an attack regardless of Congress' decision.

Michaud, a Democrat from Maine's 2nd District, said Sunday that he disagrees.

"I do not believe the president has the power to send our warriors into war, and that's exactly what this is," Michaud said at a Labor Day weekend picnic in Augusta's Capitol Park. "If the president really wants to listen to members of Congress after we have that thorough debate once we go back into session, then he should listen to members of Congress."

Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she strongly agreed with the president's decision to consult Congress, given the potential consequences of military action. In a written statement, Collins did not commit to supporting a military response but did advocate for an earlier return than Congress' scheduled date of Sept. 9 to consider the issue.

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. 

Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, participated in a fact-finding trip to several Syrian neighbors in July. King said the United States must be "extremely mindful of the ramifications of any actions we pursue," but did not come out in support of military strikes.

"I will review the evidence and arguments with great care before deciding how I will vote on this difficult and important issue," King said.

Syria has been mired in civil war virtually since anti-Assad demonstrations began in March 2011. In late July, the United Nations said the death toll there had reached 100,000.

The administration has built its case for a retaliatory strike against Assad's regime largely around a reported Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.

Michaud, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said he is concerned with Syria's potential use of chemical weapons, but also worried about the consequences a U.S. military strike could have on American allies in the Middle East, such as Israel.

Michaud said he wouldn't support a U.S. military ground campaign in Syria. It's likely that U.S. action would take place remotely, with targeted cruise missile strikes against key Syrian targets.

In an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. government has collected samples from Syrian first responders that have tested positive for sarin, a nerve agent, from the Aug. 21 attack.

Before endorsing any strike, Michaud said he wants clear evidence that the Syrian government -- not rebel fighters -- indeed was behind the use of chemical weapons.

He said that's especially important because in 2002, in the run-up to the Iraq War, Congress approved military action based on evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which later proved untrue.

Michaud said a decision Thursday by Britain's House of Commons to reject military strikes in Syria could signal a hit to America's international credibility.

"I think we can be very careful and hold the administration accountable," he said.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

 

 

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Today's poll: Syria military strike

Should Congress authorize a military attack on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad?

Yes

No

View Results