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Our Interviews With Three U.S. Congressmen on Syria

Part of President Obama’s plan last week on intervening in the ongoing Syrian crisis was that the United States Congress deserved to have a say in the way forward. Now that votes in the U.S. Senate have been delayed to see if a Russian proposal on chemical weapons removal advances, there’s a chance Congress won’t have to weigh in.

So what did members of Congress think about the President’s prime time speech to the nation on Tuesday evening? Were they convinced by his words on chemical weapons and international diplomacy? Or still stuck somewhere in the middle? We talked to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) for their take on Syria and Congressional action. Highlights are below.

 

Rep. Michael Burgess, (R-TX)

“It was a Republican president, Dwight David Eisenhower in 1954 who said you should never get involved militarily for purely emotional reasons…

“I am grateful we are not putting our men and women into this conflict — where in my opinion they don’t belong — but I felt the same way about Libya. And of course, the President did not come to the Congress on Libya, he went to the international community and sort of made the announcement on plane runway on the way to Brazil…

“[However,]Once the troops are there, I would be supportive of whatever it takes to support the troops once they’re engaged.”

 

Alan Grayson (D-FL)

“I’m pleased that we’re not going to be immediately engaging in military intervention in Syria, and I think that i join something like 250 million other Americans in relief. I think we breathe a sigh of relief and we’re happy that we’re going to give peace a chance…

“However, having come to the Congress for our advice and consent, I think many of us feel a little disappointed that the President simply hasn’t listened to what we’ve been saying, which is that the specific attack that he has planned out would be pointless, would be dangerous and there are better options available…

“The purpose of getting the advice and consent of the Congress was, first of all, Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war. But secondly, we’re giving him meaningful advice. We’ve seen the classified briefings, we know the plan of attack and what we’re doing overwhelmingly is telling him this won’t work.”

Eliot Engel (D-NY)

“People are war weary in this country, and so am I. People are tied of war, people are skpetical when it’s said, ‘Don’t worry, there won’t be boots on the ground, this won’t lead us into a quagmire’ and that’s understandable…

“There is no stomach in the Congress for moves that would bog us down into another war and so I think that  what the President is trying to do is to find a center here, a common ground whereby so we can express our revulsion at using chemical weapons without getting us bogged down into a larger war. I think ultimately that what’s going to happen in Syria will be decided by the Syrians…

“I took the position, and still do, that the President needn’t go to Congress for something like this. That according the War Powers Act, that he could strike and then come to Congress within 60 days. We’ve had other Presidents do, as we had Bill Clinton in Kosovo, we’ve had Reagan in Grenada, we’ve had the first Bush in Panama, there’s Obama in Libya,  so there’s ample precedent of dong that.

But the President, from what I understand, felt strongly about coming to Congress and I think that he has to really try to get the vote, and let’s hope diplomacy works, that all I can say.”

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