The Oregon delegation on Syria, and a demo

Chris Lowe

Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian says this about how the Oregon delegation in Congress stands on authorizing the use of military force against Syria: "The result is four undecided (Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Reps. Greg Walden and Suzanne Bonamici) and three essentially opposed (Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader)." That's close to what I've found, but not exactly. After the jump, varying degrees of more detail and complexity, along with phone numbers.

Meanwhile, for BlueOregon readers feeling demonstrative against another unwise Mideast military adventure, or queasy about "sending messages" and "credibility" as reasons for warmaking, on Monday September 9 from 4-7 pm there will be a peaceful demonstration at the Federal Building in downtown Portland, used as a symbol for Congress.

So this is what I learned when I called the senators and my representative, and looked into the others:

The Senate is up first. The Foreign Relations Committee passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force by a relatively narrow 10-7 vote, which will be debated next week. At both Senator Wyden's and Senator Merkley's offices, the person answering the phone said that the senator in question had issued no statement, but would be happy to take a constituent comment; I duly expressed my opposition.

Interestingly, Senator Wyden's phone was so busy that I was put on hold for several minutes. A friend of mine received a long and thoughtful email from Senator Merkley, reproduced below, which might be read to suggest a lean toward voting "No". However, that might just be hopeful reading by me. Draw your own conclusions.

At Rep. Blumenauer's, a pleasant staffer told me that Earl is waiting to see the actual text and to "do his due diligence," but is "very skeptical and cautious" about any attack. That conforms to The Washington Post's categorization of Blumenauer as "leaning No," more closely than to Mapes' "essentially opposed," but Mapes may have better information than me.

At Rep. Bonamici's, the phone person referred me to a Sept 3 press release on the congresswoman's website. It reads:

The use of chemical weapons against innocent civilian populations is deplorable, violates international norms, and must not be tolerated, but military action is not always the most appropriate response.

I will be carefully reviewing the text of any proposed resolution that would authorize the use of military force, and carefully considering the details and scope of specific actions that the President is proposing.

There are still many unanswered questions, and I am continuing to gather information from the intelligence community as well as from colleagues and constituents in support and opposed to military action.

Rep. Schrader's statement, issued Sept 4, is unambiguous. He intends to vote "No":

I appreciate the President seeking the participation of Congress before committing to U.S. military action in Syria. However, I remain opposed to authorizing the unilateral use of U.S. forces—limited or not—without strong international support and clear, attainable objectives. The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is reprehensible, but without attainable objectives tied to a clear strategy, direct military intervention by the U.S. is a mistake that will lead to numerous unforeseen consequences. We should continue to work with our international partners to end the violence in Syria through other means. Our nation has much bigger economic security issues at home that more greatly threaten our nation.

More of Kurt Schrader's reasoning can be found in the Salem Statesman Journal.

Rep. Walden's most recent statement, issued Sept 1, appears to lean slightly toward "No"; the president must make the case, an unintended consequences are worrisome. However, that was before John Boehner and Eric Cantor came out in favor of a strike against Syria. Walden, as a fellow member of the House Republican leadership, may now be under additional pressure to agree. On the left foot, who can tell what's happening in internal Republican politics these days?

The President needs to make his case to Congress and to the American people regarding his plan, and what we can anticipate happening after whatever proposed military action is taken. The Assad regime and its allies will surely have a response. It's not clear what we may be getting America into.

Rep. DeFazio is counted as a clear "No" by both Jeff Mapes and The Washington Post, but his statement as published, apparently made Sept 4, seems in wording to have some room for change -- it's stronger than Blumenauer's reported position, perhaps, but not quite so definitive as Schrader's.

I have yet to hear the administration answer two simple questions—what are our objectives and what is our long-term strategy in this conflict. This situation is incredibly fluid, but I currently do not support an open-ended, ill-defined intervention in another civil war. It's abundantly clear that there's no easy resolution to this conflict and the need for or potential effectiveness of U.S. military involvement is questionable at best.

Additionally, though, on Sept 5, DeFazio tweeted "@RepPeterDeFazio Tally from constituents calling my office, emailing, and writing about #Syria: 1135 opposed to U.S. action, 18 for." suggesting he probably will indeed vote "No."

Assuming so, I salute my Needham homeboy: "Go Rockets!" Or don't, actually.

A friend of mine received the following constituent email from Jeff Merkley, for which I can't give a link, but which I believe is genuine. It shows Merkley engaged in complex thinking, unsurprisingly. As in Walden's case, his questions, including concern for unintended consequences, appear to lean toward the "No" side. Yet like Walden, Merkley may face pressure from his party leadership for a "Yes" vote, though of a somewhat different character.

Thank you for contacting me to share your concerns and views about the events unfolding in Syria and the proposed American response. I appreciate hearing from you.

President Obama, as required under the War Powers Act, is consulting Congress before taking action related to the use of chemical weapons by the Government of Syria. I applaud him for pursuing this consultation, since various Presidents have at times ignored this requirement.

I take the events in Syria and the consultation process extremely seriously. There are many aspects of this that I am reviewing. One is to understand the full scope of evidence pertaining to the reported use of nerve agents by Syria. In addition, why isn't there more of a coordinated international response since, as President Obama has pointed out, the "red line" on chemical weapons is an "international" red line?

Another aspect is to understand the full range of potential policy instruments that might both bring the international community together and deter future use of chemical weapons. Have we fully explored non-military options including statements of condemnation, ejection from international organizations, economic sanctions, and war crime tribunals?

Moreover, what are the risks of escalation and retaliation of largely unilateral actions? And what is the consequence of the U.S. and the international community failing to respond substantively, whether in a military or non-military manner, to the use of chemical munitions?

These are some of the issues that I am intently examining to understand the pros and cons of the options before us. I deeply appreciate knowing your views on this very important issue.

DC phone numbers

Earl Blumenauer: (202) 225-4811
Suzanne Bonamici: (202) 225-0855
Peter DeFazio: (202) 225-6416
Kurt Schrader: (202) 225-5711
Greg Walden: (202) 225-6730

Jeff Merkley: (202) 224-3753
Ron Wyden: (202) 224-5244

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