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A US Liberal Joins Syria War Push, While One Conservative Flips Against

Sep. 6, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Senate Democrats Hold News Conference On Student L
Sen. Al Franken says it is important for the US to let Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other world leaders know they cannot use illicit arms without repercussions. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — A liberal US Democrat from Minnesota on Friday signaled he would vote to authorize military strikes in Syria. A conservative Republican from Georgia flipped from undecided to a possible "nay" vote.

For many on Capitol Hill, things suddenly seem inside out and backwards. After all, liberal Democrats like Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota seem ready to join House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's call to war in Syria.

The California Democratic leader was for years a leading congressional skeptic of the George W. Bush administration's Iraq war.

This week, she has sent several missives to her House Democratic colleagues urging them to vote to authorize President Barack Obama's desired military action in Syria.

Franken initially supported the Iraq war, before opposing the 2007 surge. He also supported Obama's effort to end that war.

Franken and other lawmakers huddled for nearly three hours with Pentagon, State Department and intelligence officials about Syria during a rare Friday afternoon classified briefing for all lawmakers.

He rarely takes questions when traversing the Capitol complex. But he talked to reporters Friday, saying he wants to make sure any use-of-force resolution's language is narrow enough to place limits on any US military operation.

Franken says it is important for the US to let Bashar al-Assad and other world leaders know they cannot use illicit arms without repercussions. He placed himself into the "leaning yes" column.

Winning the support of Democrats in both chambers like Franken, who have supported past US military action, will be key for the White House as they work to secure ample votes in both chambers for a Syria AUMF.

Also key will be winning over just enough sometimes-hawish Republicans like Gingrey.

As Gingrey entered the classified session, he told Defense News he was solidly undecided. He said he wanted to review the administration's classified dossier of intelligence about Assad's chemical weapons use, as well as military options.

But several hours later, Gingrey told reporters he now is "leaning no."

He offered few specifics, but said some of the data presented during the briefing was "not compelling."

Some House and Senate members came back to Washington this week for classified briefings.

Still, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., noted Friday that "most members have not" yet been briefed.

Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee, D-Texas on Thursday predicted a vigorous debate in the House next week over whether or not to authorize Obama to strike Syria.

To that end, the Senate is poised to vote on its narrowed force resolution next Wednesday. House leaders, however, have yet to announce just what the lower chamber will take up.

They could write their own resolution. Or they could merely take up the Senate measure.

House leaders have yet to inform rank-and-file members of their plans, Gingrey said.

Levin said it remains unclear whether the House will be ready to vote by late next week.

Several members said it's possible the House might not vote until the week of Sept. 16. That could delay any US military strikes until late September.

And even skeptical lawmakers, like GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, told reporters this week they are concerned delays of that length could render a US mission ineffective in achieving the White House's goals of degrading Assad's chemical arms arsenal and using it again.

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