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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Regional lawmakers hesitant to back Obama’s Syria plan

The Inland Northwest congressional delegation is treading softly as President Barack Obama seeks authorization to use a big stick in response to charges that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people.

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican serving on the Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee, said he was reluctant to authorize any military action despite the “awful” and “horrendous” conditions in the country. During a committee meeting Tuesday, Risch questioned Secretary of State John Kerry about the country’s response if Russia, Iran, Israel and other regional actors embroiled themselves in the conflict.

“Probably the more likely actor would be Hezbollah,” Risch said, referring to the militant branch of Shiite Islam based in Lebanon that has aligned itself with the ruling regime. “They’re in that country fighting for Assad.”

Risch said he and several Democrats in the Senate are opposed to Obama using force without congressional authorization, an outcome Kerry hinted at during his appearance Tuesday.

“I disagree with (the president) vehemently,” Risch said. “The Constitution’s pretty clear that Congress is the branch to declare war.”

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers solicited constituent input via the Web on Tuesday, two days after attending a Capitol Hill briefing with Obama. McMorris Rodgers has joined a chorus of lawmakers requesting more detailed plans on the size and scope of a potential military strike in a country gripped by civil war since early 2011.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., also signaled last week she had concerns about a protracted U.S. campaign in Syria. Murray, who voted against a 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, said in a statement that “while I have very serious concerns about any military action that would further strain our nation’s service members and limited resources, I also know that, to this point, the President has only discussed considering limited, targeted actions.”

Lawmakers’ trepidation seems to be echoed by the public, according to poll figures released Tuesday. A Washington Post-ABC News survey conducted over the long Labor Day weekend found nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose a missile strike against Assad even if chemical weapons were used.

Liz Moore, director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, helped coordinate a demonstration opposing Syrian intervention Saturday at Riverfront Park that drew about 70 people, including members of the group Veterans for Peace.

“We feel that bombing, or any sort of military intervention, would have the effect of increasing the misery of the Syrian people and escalating violence,” Moore said Tuesday. The League would prefer the United States earn backing from other regional players, including Russia, before acting in a conflict that has the potential to tumble the dominoes in an unstable region, Moore said.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, called for Congress to reconvene this week to hold a vote on Obama’s military proposal to avert potential stasis on issues such as the impending debt-ceiling deadline and large-scale immigration reform. Congressional leadership has signaled a vote on the resolution will instead take place next week.