Area lawmakers weigh in on upcoming Syria vote

Sep 4, 2013

As Congress begins to debate a resolution to authorize United States military action in Syria, members of the New York congressional delegation are expressing their opinion publicly about what should be done.

Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican who represents parts of the Finger Lakes and Souther Tier regions, has been conducting a listening tour in his district to gather opinions from his constituents.

At the end of an hour-long discussion at Owego’s Town Hall, one of Reed’s aides asked those who supported military strikes in Syria to raise their hands. Two hands went up, 24 stayed down.

Audience member George Williams summed up the prevailing feeling about involvement in another conflict in the Middle East.

“I don’t trust what the White House is telling us, I don’t believe we’re getting the right information from them and I believe whatever we do is just going to make a mess.”

President Barack Obama proposed military action against Syria after an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government last month killed more than a thousand people.

Reed says that as terrible as chemical weapons are, that’s not his main concern as he weighs how to vote.

“What are our national security priorities? And how are we going to protect them, first and foremost? And that’s the policy we should be focusing on.”

Reed says the government should be working on other ways to secure the chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria and on finding a political solution to the conflict.

“Everything that I’m seeing from the White House and what the president is proposing in regards to limited air strikes is something that to me is very dangerous, it runs a very serious risk of escalation in the area and it is something, absent some compelling information that I haven’t been privy to as of yet, I don’t see where it’s in our American national security interest to authorize that limited air strike that the president is talking about.”

During a stop in Big Flats, public opinion was also strongly opposed to getting involved. Republican lawmakers are split, with Reed joining the isolationist and Tea Party wings against some establishment Republicans - like House Speaker John Boehner - who support military action.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who last week said he could support limited military action in Syria, says he is taking a cautious approach to the situation.

"I want to wait and hear what the military people say," Schumer said. "The military people said publicly that it didn't matter when we did it, but I want to get a briefing and hear what they have to say."

But Schumer also said changes would need to be made to the president's proposed resolution.

"The resolution the president sent us, given the hesitancy of the American people, is too broad. It has to be much more tightly narrowed, if it's going to pass. And we'll be working on that happening," said the senator.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is already proposing changes to narrow the scope of the resolution.

Rep. Richard Hanna, a Republican who represents an area from Utica south to Binghamton, said in a written statement that Congress should "review and debate this important issue" and that "the American people need to know that any potential action in Syria would help achieve clearly-defined, limited and attainable policy goals that further U.S. interests in the region."

Dan Maffei, a Syracuse-area Democrat, says he is undecided, but signed a letter with other members of Congress declaring the use of military action without Congressional approval unconstitutional.

North Country Democratic Rep. Bill Owens is also undecided, but in a written release says he "will seek details about any proposed mission’s duration, cost and objectives, the most important of which is whether or not U.S. military action could prevent the future use of chemical weapons in Syria." He also says he is opposed to having troops on the ground.

Congress is expected to schedule a vote next week on whether to approve a military strike against Syria.