Lawmakers from the region are weighing into the debate over what to do in Syria. While Congress is usually marred by partisan gridlock, the question of whether to follow Thursday night’s air strikes with further military force is dividing members of the same party.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said the strike was long overdue.”I’ve said for years that we should have hit his airfields,” Democrat Casey said of Syrian President Bashar Assad.Casey, who opposes sending ground troops to Syria, said he’s calling on President Donald Trump to keep pressing for the removal of Assad. And while he’d like to see Trump present a clear strategy in the region, Casey said the president was justified in striking at Syria following Assad’s use of deadly gas to kill dozens of civilians.“The idea that we can just condemn it and move on is totally unacceptable. So it’s been a source of frustration for me for years, literally,” Casey said of the atrocities that have marked the six-year civil war.Other Democrats, however, said they are concerned that the president launched an air strike without consulting Congress.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said he has a lot of questions.”I want to understand the justification of the strike. Clearly, there are rules in terms of the president’s ability to use military force, so I have a lot of concerns,” he said.
Strategy in the region needs to encompass much more than just a military solution, said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware. “I expect the Trump administration to consult with Congress, and Congress to do its job — to help develop a strong and positive strategy for how to engage in Syria both against ISIS and Assad,” he said. “And to ask and push probing questions forward for the administration about how long, how will we pay for it, and how will we resolve it.”As far as the money angle, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, is sponsoring legislation to effect more sanctions against top Russian officials who are helping prop up the Syrian leader.”You need to change the dynamics. The pendulum has swung to Assad because of Russia and Iran,” he said. “Unless you hold them accountable as well and change the dynamics, you’re not going to get a political solution.”Drawing Russia, Iran into the equation
Syria has been locked in a nasty civil war since 2011. That, said U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, is unacceptable.”This has probably been the biggest black eye in U.S. foreign policy over the last five years. The situation is enormously complex,” said the Philadelphia Democrat.Assad’s use of a banned toxic gas was a rightful game changer, he added.”The vivid, disgusting images of children gasping for their last breaths brought me to tears. I think it moves most, if not all, people,” Boyle said. “It’s a vivid sign of the brutality of the Assad regime and its backer, Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime.”The second-term congressman has also called for more sanctions against Russian and Syrian officials.”I’d been concerned this administration would come in and roll back the existing sanctions. I’m hoping that the apparent reversal of President Trump on the way he views the Syria situation, I hope he’s also reversing himself on how he views Vladimir Putin as well,” Boyle said.U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, a South Jersey Republican, is also calling on the Trump administration to use diplomacy to ratchet up pressure on Assad from all sides.“Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia, bear some responsibility for this, and as has been clearly demonstrated over the last eight years, nine years, we cannot just march in and fix what’s going wrong in Syria,” MacArthur said.Congress is now in recess for two weeks; should the fighting escalate, some lawmakers said they should cancel their break and come back to debate how to respond to the conflict.