Minn. congressional delegation splits over Syria

Published 3:34 pm Wednesday, September 4, 2013

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s congressional delegation is split over President Barack Obama’s proposed military strike against Syria.

The state’s two senators and eight representatives have varying views on the president’s desire to retaliate against the Middle Eastern nation for its government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against a rebel faction. And the split is not falling along party lines.

Two Democrats, Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Keith Ellison, say they’re likely to support the resolution, as is Republican Rep. John Kline. But two Republican representatives, Michele Bachmann and Erik Paulsen, are joining Democratic colleagues Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson in opposition.

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Three other Democrats — Sen. Amy Klobuchar and representatives Betty McCollum and Tim Walz — are still on the fence. Congressional votes could come as early as next week, as hearings on the proposal continued on Wednesday in Washington.

“The use of chemical weapons to kill over a thousand people and injure many more is a horrendous act, and there have to be consequences for that,” Franken said a few days ago. A spokesman said this week that the one-term Democrat is seeking assurances that U.S. troops will not be sent into Syria, which has been a common demand from members of Congress.

In fact, both Klobuchar and McCollum said they want guarantees that U.S. troops would not be sent into the country before they decide whether to support the resolution. Klobuchar said that the administration’s initial Syria resolution was overly broad, and that she needs to see it in final form before deciding for sure. McCollum, who represents the St. Paul area, and Walz, of southern Minnesota, set similar criteria.

Kline, who represents a suburban district south of the Twin Cities, said he was disappointed that Obama drew what he called a “red line” with Syria, but “America’s credibility is now in question and the world is watching.” Ellison, who represents Minneapolis, noted his own anti-war reputation but said he’s not a “pure pacifist.”

“I do believe there are times when you have to protect innocent people with force. And I believe this may well be one of those times,” he said.

On the other side are Ellison’s Democratic colleagues, Nolan and Peterson. Nolan, from northern Minnesota, in particular has emerged as a vocal Democratic opponent of the president on Syria; he pledged this week to “vote and work against President Obama’s request for open-ended authority to launch military strikes against the Syrian army.”

Nolan said if chemical weapon use by Syria can be definitively confirmed, than the country’s president Bashar Assad should be charged and tried in an international criminal court.

Peterson, who represents swaths of northern and western Minnesota, said he was unconvinced that U.S. attacks would significantly change the situation in Syria. Similarly, Republicans Bachmann and Paulsen, who respectively represent western and northern Twin Cities suburbs, said Obama has failed to set out clear objectives for the strike.

“President Obama has not demonstrated a vital American national security interest in the conflict in Syria or a clear strategy outlining what the use of force would accomplish,” Bachmann said.