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Delmarva Now - Harris, Cardin Leave Door Open on Syria

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Location: Washington, DC

By Nicole Gaudiano and Jennifer Shutt

Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland said Tuesday he's not inclined to vote for military intervention in Syria, although he left his options open.

"The decision to engage militarily is one of the most serious a member of Congress can make, and, although at this point I would not vote for military intervention, I plan to examine all of the evidence before making a decision," the 1st Congressional District Republican said in a statement.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., meanwhile, said he would like to see the resolution on intervention narrowed.

The comments from the two members of the Maryland congressional delegation followed President Barack Obama's request Saturday for congressional approval for a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, based on evidence it used chemical weapons against its own people.

A vote by Harris against authorizing such a strike would represent a break with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who support the president's request. On Tuesday, Boehner encouraged his colleagues to "support this call for action" after a White House meeting.

Obama said Saturday he believes he does not need congressional approval for military action, but added, "I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective."

Harris joined 140 lawmakers last week in a letter urging Obama to seek congressional approval for a military strike. His statement said it was Obama's "constitutional obligation" to do so.

But he said there are "serious questions" about whether a strike would benefit U.S. national security. He also questioned how the U.S. should respond if other nations use chemical weapons against their citizens.

"The administration needs to make the case to Congress and the American people why military intervention is needed and clearly state the scope of the planned intervention," his statement said.

Harris' staff did not immediately respond to a request for an interview with Harris.

Tuesday, the debate took center stage on Capitol Hill as Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey answered questions in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

During the hearing Sen. Cardin said he believes Assad's conduct warrants intervention, but nonetheless he would like to see the resolution narrowed.

"I've read the resolution that you've presented to us," Cardin told administration officials during the hearing. "I think it is broader than what you've stated the president's intentions on the mission.... It certainly does not close the door on the introduction of ground troops."

"I just want to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to work with our leadership to draft a resolution that is as tight as we can make it to allow you to carry out the mission you have defined here today," Cardin said. "So that we can go back and tell the American people that we in Congress are supporting your action, but are not leaving open the door for the introduction of American troops in Syria."

Today, the same committee is scheduled to have a closed-door meeting about the ongoing conflict.

The House of Representatives is still on its summer recess, but leaders from both political parties are in the capital and have attended meetings with Obama.

Public disinclined to intervene
Two new polls show Obama faces a daunting task in getting the public to support his call for military strikes against Syria.

Nearly six in 10 Americans are opposed to using military action as a response to the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons in the nation's bloody civil war, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday. A Pew Research Center poll, also released Tuesday, found 48 percent of adults oppose a military strike, while 29 percent say they favor such action.

Harris' Facebook page includes several comments from people urging him to oppose military action in Syria.

Boehner did not say he would pressure fellow Republicans into supporting action against Syria. His spokesman, Brendan Buck, said these will be "conscience votes" for lawmakers, and the White House must lead the lobbying effort.

"Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the speaker expects the White House to provide answers to members' questions," Buck said.

Obama said Tuesday he believes Congress will vote to authorize a military strike against Syria. He also said he is willing to work with lawmakers on the wording of a resolution authorizing the use of force, as long as it preserves the mission of sending "a clear message" to Assad's government, "degrading his capabilities to use chemical weapons, not just now but also in the future."

A congressional vote could be close. Some lawmakers have said the U.S. should not get involved in Syria. Others question whether the administration has proved Assad's government fired chemical weapons at Syrian rebels.

Syria has denied using chemical weapons, attributing the Aug 21 attack to the rebels themselves.

Obama stressed that he envisions a "limited" and "proportional" mission that does not involve U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.

"This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan," he said.


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