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Utahns in Congress skeptical of Syria plan

Published September 4, 2013 12:47 pm

Military intervention • Utah elected officials appear to be mostly no votes in debate over authorizing missle strikes against Syrian government.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • President Barack Obama persuaded House Republican leaders Tuesday to back his plan for missile strikes against the Syrian regime for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own people.

He has a long way to go to get the support of Utah's six members of Congress. Three are leaning against it and three are undecided.

Here is a snapshot of their thinking as Congress debates a resolution authorizing a limited military campaign, with the vote expected to take place next week:



Sen. Orrin Hatch, R: undecided

Utah's senior senator has shied away from making public statements on whether he supports or opposes a strike on Damascus. He has talked with officials in the Obama administration and is reviewing the intelligence on the alleged sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of civilians, including children. He hasn't made up his mind, his staff says.

He would like the president to be more forceful. Hatch has called on him to make a prime-time address explaining his Syria strategy and why the United States should interject itself in the conflict.

Sen. Mike Lee, R: no

Like many in Congress, Lee appreciates that the president asked Congress for an authorization of force. He just doesn't see any reason to support one at this time.

Lee and his close colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., are likely to lead the opposition to the resolution in the Senate, arguing that the fighting in Syria isn't threatening U.S. national security.

The Utah senator is returning to Washington on Wednesday to participate in a closed-door hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he'll have a chance to talk to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D: leaning no

"Based on what I know today, and there is a lot of classified material I still want to review, personally my mind-set is to vote no," said Matheson, the state's only Democrat in Congress. "I have personally not been convinced of a compelling reason for us to take military action."

Matheson called the chemical weapon attack "a horrific act" but said he would prefer a global response rather than a limited one led by the United States.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R: leaning no

He hasn't participated in any classified briefings yet, but Chaffetz said he's skeptical of the need for U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war and what such a limited strike could actually accomplish.

"The classified intelligence is changing on a daily basis and I want to be able to see that before I cast my final vote," he said. "But I'm inclined to be a no."

He would feel more comfortable if the United States was part of a broader coalition that also included some Middle Eastern countries. He also has questions about the wider strategy in Syria, and he's not sold that the use of a chemical weapon is a strong enough reason to get involved.

"It is a hideous, reprehensible situation. I can't even imagine what the people there are going through," he said. "But we have heinous acts happening in Africa and other parts of the world where we don't have military action."

Rep. Chris Stewart, R: undecided

Utah's newest member of Congress is also the only one with military experience. Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, says he'll soon return to D.C. to attend classified briefings and make a decision. He says he'll look closely at the way the authorization of force is framed by congressional leaders and the administration.

"I find the situation in Syria very troubling, leaving very little doubt that a critical line has been crossed," he said. "Once I have all of the facts about the proposed military plan, I will make a decision as to the best way to protect our national security and strategic interest."

Rep. Rob Bishop, R: undecided

Bishop is waiting to attend a confidential security briefing before making up his mind, something that may not happen until he returns to Washington next week. He's a longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee, and he represents a district that could benefit from the military's expected use of cruise missiles to strike targets in Syria. He declined to offer any details of his thinking on the matter.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham

 

 

 

 

 

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