Arizona House members not sold on call for military action in Syria

Sep 6, 2013, 5:00 AM | Updated: 6:48 am

WASHINGTON — Four of Arizona’s nine House members said they will oppose a U.S. attack on Syria and at least four others said they are not sure how they will vote when Congress returns next week.

“He’s not going to make a decision without hearing the evidence and participating in the debate,” said Mark Kimble, whose boss, Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, was one of the four still weighing a decision.

Others said that they could still change their vote – if “hellacious” new evidence was presented by the Obama administration – but that they have pretty much made up their minds.

“The administration failed to present a convincing argument that the events in Syria pose a clear threat to America,” Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, said in a statement after a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday at which administration officials pressed their case.

President Barack Obama asked Congress for authority to take “limited” military action against the Syrian government for the reported use of chemical weapons against civilians and rebels in that country on Aug. 21. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed a “red line” with the attacks, which demand a response, Obama said.

The president says he can order a strike on his own but announced last weekend that he would go to Congress for approval – even though lawmakers are on recess until next week.

“I think a lot of people in Congress wanted the president to take it to Congress, but I think a lot didn’t want to have to vote on it,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the political analysis website Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It’s a political no-win for them.”

Both of Arizona’s senators voted in committee Wednesday to OK a military strike, with Sen. Jeff Flake saying evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people was too strong to ignore.

But House members were not convinced this week.

“I’m not in favor of trying to bail out the president, who boxed himself into a corner,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott. “I think there’s more at stake than the president’s ego.”

Gosar said he could not trust the president or Secretary of State John Kerry, who he said have “led from behind” on Syria and are now “trying to play catch-up.” Despite Kerry’s repeated assurances that there would be no U.S. troops drawn in to the conflict, Gosar was also concerned about risking American lives “just to send a message to Assad.”

“When you fire a missile, there’s going be some retaliation – you better have an orchestrated plan of where you’re going to go with this,” he said.

Salmon and Gosar were joined in their opposition by Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, and David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills.

“David isn’t convinced there is a U.S. interest yet,” said Schweikert spokeswoman Rachel Semmel. “If we become engaged with little direction from the president, what is our exit strategy?”

Salmon said Kerry’s testimony Wednesday led him to believe the U.S. “would be left to strike unilaterally and without a broad coalition of other nations.”

Aides said Grijalva was traveling this week, but on social media sites he previously noted his opposition to U.S. military action in Syria.

“Attacking Syria is the wrong course of action,” Grijalva’s official Twitter account said Aug. 30. “We need prevention right now, not punishment.”

The opposition brings together Grijalva, one of the delegation’s most liberal members, with some of its most conservative. But the split has otherwise followed party lines – so far.

Along with Barber, Democratic Reps. Ed Pastor of Phoenix, Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff and Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix also said they would not decide on Syria until they have received briefings on the issue and debated the resolution in Congress.

“As they return, they’re going to get more briefings, they’re going to get more information and there will actually be a House resolution to look at and debate,” said Jennifer Johnson, Kirkpatrick’s communications director.

Gosar said that while he had not received a full intelligence briefing, “it’d have to be some hellacious change of information before I could reconsider saying no.”

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Kondik said there seem to be a “heck of a lot more” opponents to the Syria strike and few supporters in Congress.

“Opponents seem to be a lot louder and prouder now,” he said. “If you just look at the numbers, passage looks pretty challenging.”

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Arizona House members not sold on call for military action in Syria