WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday he does not believe Congress will reject military action against Syria, but lawmakers are making it clear that the vote will not be easy and the outcome is not assured.
President Obama announced Saturday that he believes the United States should launch a military attack on Syria in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus. But he said he would first seek approval from Congress for use of military force.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he thinks the Senate “will rubber-stamp what (Obama) wants, but I think the House will be a much closer vote.” Paul said he believes “it’s at least 50-50 whether the House will vote down involvement in the Syrian war.”
Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it’s not clear whether American interests are at stake in Syria, or whether opponents of the Assad regime would be any more friendly to the United States.
Paul recalled that Kerry said during the Vietnam War, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
“I would ask, ‘How do you ask a man to be the first to die for a mistake?’” Paul said. “I’m not sending my son, your son or anybody else’s son to fight for a stalemate.”
Paul said he was “proud” of Obama for following the Constitution and asking for congressional support. But he said the president made a “grave mistake” in setting a “red line.” Obama’s push for military action, he said, is an effort to “save face and add bad policy to bad policy.”
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the president may have trouble winning the backing of Congress.
King, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said, “I think it is going to be difficult,” noting that there is an “isolationist” tendency in the Republican Party.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he believes “at the end of the day, Congress will rise to the occasion,” but he also said, “it’s going to take that healthy debate to get there.”
But Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told “Fox News Sunday” that he didn’t think Congress would approve a war resolution. He said budget cuts have rendered U.S. forces “degraded and unready.”
Several lawmakers raised objections to military action in the hours after Obama announced he will ask Congress to approve the use of force.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.Y., an Army veteran with multiple foreign deployments, said Saturday, “I hope my colleagues will fully think through the weightiness of this decision and reject military action. The situation on the ground in Syria is tragic and deeply saddening, but escalating the conflict and Americanizing the Syrian civil war will not resolve the matter.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said, “The apparent chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime is an appalling, unconscionable act by a bloodthirsty tyrant. The ‘limited’ military response supported by President Obama, however, shows no clear goal, strategy, or any coherence whatsoever, and is supported neither by myself nor the American people.”
Opposition to the use of force is not limited to the Republican Party. Democrat Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said in a statement: “Unilateral U.S. military action against the Syrian regime at this time would do nothing to advance American interests, but would certainly fuel extremist groups on both sides of the conflict that are determined to expand the bloodshed beyond Syria’s borders.”
While Congress remains on recess, the White House has begun its campaign to sway opinions, holding a classified briefing for lawmakers Sunday to show them evidence against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We’re not going to lose this vote,” Kerry said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
Singer writes for USA Today. Contributing: The Associated Press; Gregory Korte; Brian Tumulty and Raju Chebium, Gannett Washington Bureau