Collins, Michaud both oppose missile strike in Syria; King, Pingree still on the fence

 

Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and Republican Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday both voiced their opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposed missile strike in Syria.

“I cannot support the resolution [authorizing a limited military strike] approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” Collins wrote in a statement to the BDN Tuesday night, moments before Obama addressed the nation on national television. She continued:

“I have many concerns about deepening U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict because our country could find itself slowly entangled in an increasingly dangerous and protracted civil war.  I don’t think U.S. involvement would end with just one military strike.

Michaud also he had made up his mind — at least based on the information he’s received to date:

“I do not believe the case has been made for a unilateral military solution to the crisis in Syria and, at this time, I would vote ‘no’ on a congressional resolution that authorizes such force.

Maine’s envoys to Congress have heard a deluge of comments from voters as they’ve deliberated on whether to support military intervention in Syria, according to staffers from each of the two senators and two representatives. An overwhelming majority of those voters oppose the limited missile strike proposed by Obama as a deterrent against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is accused of using sarin gas in an attack on opposition forces last month in Damascus.

But it may end up not mattering much. On Tuesday, Obama put on pause his request for a vote by Congress and signaled that he’d work with the United Nations on a plan floated by Russia to avert military action by the U.S. by having the international community take control of Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile. Syria has indicated it is willing to give up those weapons to stave off the U.S. attack.

Michaud continued:

“I am encouraged that there are ongoing discussions about a potential diplomatic solution to avert military intervention. The details are still being worked out, but I’m hopeful that a swift and effective resolution to the Syria weapons crisis can be achieved without authorization of military force by the United States.

Collins also said she supported the Russians’ plan:

“The United States should be aggressively pursuing a diplomatic solution such as the one put forward by the Russian.  It certainly is preferable to launching a military strike on a country that has not attacked us.  The United States’ goal should be to get the chemical stockpiles out of Syria so that the Assad regime can no longer use them to harm or kill innocent civilians.”

When Obama — who could have ordered the strike without consulting lawmakers — punted the question to Congress, it caught the legislative branch by surprise. The move toward a diplomatic solution has potentially allowed Congress to dodge a bullet by dialing down the pressure on lawmakers, who were asked to choose between an unpopular military strike option and inaction that could be construed as giving a free pass to Assad gassing his own people.

The Senate on Tuesday delayed a vote originally scheduled for Wednesday, a sign interpreted by some to mean the president didn’t have the votes necessary to win approval for his plan. If the Russian plan is successful, it’s possible Congress won’t end up voting at all.

Neither Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree or Independent Sen. Angus King have taken firm stances on the Syria question, though Pingree has said she’s “leaning against” supporting a strike. And they’re not alone: An ongoing tally by the New York Times shows that about half of each chamber is “undecided.”

Pingree also put out her a statement Tuesday on the ongoing developments in Syria, though she did not yet stake a position:

“The proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control is a potentially positive development that could avoid US military intervention and guarantee that those weapons are secured and destroyed. The calls I am getting from my constituents continue to be overwhelmingly opposed to military intervention and I think we would all rather see a diplomatic solution to the crisis.”

Pingree on Tuesday also asked her constituents to vote in an “urgent poll” to gauge public opinion on the Syria question. “While Syrian President Assad should pay for his unlawful and immoral use of these weapons, I’m not convinced that U.S. military intervention is the best way to accomplish that. The US House will soon vote to authorize the use of force against Syria and I want your feedback,” she wrote.

After Obama’s speech Tuesday night, in which he outlined the case for a military strike while extending the window for a diplomatic result, Pingree said she was still not convinced.

“I continue to believe that military intervention in Syria is not in the best interest of the United States and nothing I heard tonight changes my view of that. I am encouraged by the proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, so they can be secured and destroyed.  I continue to believe that an international, diplomatic solution and not a military intervention, is the best response to the threat posed by these weapons.”

King on Tuesday said that new developments are keeping the situation — and his position — in flux:

“This is a very important development with Russia. It potentially will keep chemical weapons away from Assad and if Assad did fall it would keep chemical weapons away from opposition forces. I have not decided how I will vote, things are happening on an hourly basis and it’s creating options we didn’t have even 24 hours ago.”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.