September 3, 2013

Vote on Syria looms for 2016 White House hopefuls

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Sen. Rand Paul, D-Ky. rides an escalator on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, on his way to attend a joint Senate and House intelligence closed-door briefing on Syria. A vote for war can make or break a White House hopeful. The politically fraught decision weighs on potential 2016 Republican candidates Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined by fellow committee members, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., center, and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., questions Secretary of State John Kerry during committee's hearing on President Barack Obama's request for congressional authorization for military intervention in Syria, a response to last month's alleged sarin gas attack in the Syrian civil war, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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A war vote can make or break a candidate. Just ask Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In the 2008 Democratic primary, Obama used the October 2002 vote for the Iraq war as a cudgel on Clinton, who along with John Edwards voted to give President George W. Bush the broad authority to invade Iraq. Edwards said his vote was a mistake; Clinton stood by her decision — and never recovered with strong anti-war Democratic voters.

Clinton, a potential Democratic candidate in 2016, has not spoken publicly about Obama's attempt to win congressional support for a military strike against Syria. But an aide to Clinton said Tuesday that she supports the president's effort in Congress to pursue a targeted response to the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons.

In 2004, the first presidential election since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Democratic primary voters rejected the anti-war candidate, Howard Dean, and nominated John Kerry, the decorated Vietnam War veteran who had backed the Iraq war. Kerry was perceived as the stronger candidate on national security against the incumbent president, but he stumbled in explaining his Iraq war votes, saying he voted for an $87 billion war supplemental "before I voted against it." Bush prevailed in the election.

For Republicans, the debate over Syria foreshadows a fierce argument in the party over the role of U.S. foreign policy and military involvement after Iraq and Afghanistan. The divisions have been simmering for months.

Paul conducted a lengthy Senate filibuster in March to raise concerns over the president's use of aerial drones to kill suspected terrorists, rallying libertarians within the party. Some establishment Republicans opposed the filibuster and pushed back against criticism of the National Security Agency's collection of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records, saying it was needed to keep Americans safe.

In July, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the libertarian strain within the GOP a "very dangerous thought" more than a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks. Paul responded, saying that Christie was worried about the "dangers of freedom," instead of being concerned about losing those freedoms.

As Obama has pushed for the U.S. to intervene in Syria, the GOP divisions have emerged.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has expressed skepticism about possible intervention, saying the administration has yet to make a forceful case that it would protect U.S. national security interests.

The Syria question is easier to avoid outside Washington.

Christie, asked about the Syrian conflict on Tuesday, told reporters that the "use of chemical weapons is something that just is intolerable for civilized society," but he said he would "let the policymaking be done by the people who are getting the bulk of the briefing on this, which is our federal representatives."

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