Most Fla. members in Congress skeptical of Syria strike


Associated Press

President Barack Obama’s push for a limited military strike against Syria is being met with skepticism and opposition from many in Florida’s congressional delegation.

So far, only a handful of Democrats — including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — are openly backing the president, according to survey by The Associated Press. Florida has 27 members in the U.S. House along with its two senators.

The president has argued that a limited military response is warranted after chemical weapons attacks that the administration says killed more than 1,400 civilians, including at least 400 children. The Syrian government denies responsibility, contending that rebels fighting to topple the government were to blame.

But more than half of the state’s delegation members said this week they will vote against authorizing the strike because there is no compelling national interest to act.

The growing list of opponents includes staunch conservative Republicans in Florida’s panhandle as well as Democrats from Central Florida.

“I feel what we’re doing is not in the best interests of America, nor do I think it is in the best interest of our allies,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, in an interview.

The rationale from those who oppose action in Syria ranges from concerns that military action would lead to a wider conflict involving U.S. troops to concerns it could destabilize the Middle East.

“If we do this, we are attacking a sovereign nation that has not attacked America,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, wrote to Obama at end of the August saying that “without a direct threat to the national security” she would oppose a military strike.

“As I have visited with my neighbors across my district this month I have heard from many of them who are extremely wary of military action that could lead to greater entanglement in a region where fighting factions are not aligned with the United States and our allies or our national interests,” Castor wrote.

Florida’s two U.S. senators, meanwhile, are divided.

Earlier this week in a Senate meeting, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio voted against a resolution authorizing an attack. Rubio argued that what’s happening in Syria is a “vital national security concern” but during the committee hearing he said he was “unconvinced that the use of force proposed here will work.”

Nelson, by contrast, has stated that the U.S. should strike Syria as soon as possible. In a statement he has called the use of chemical weapons “inhumane” and that “those responsible should be forced to suffer the consequences.”

Nelson is one of just a handful of Florida Democrats — including South Florida Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Ted Deutch — who have come out in support of President Obama.

Deutch, at a hearing this week, called the decision a hard choice but he contended that inaction would place America’s credibility in jeopardy especially with other countries such as Iran.

“No use of force can ever be taken lightly,” Deutch said. “But inaction here, I believe, will dramatically harm our national security by emboldening the vile Syrian regime, its terrorist proxies and its Iranian patron.” He added that when Congress, the president and “every civilized nation on Earth says that you cannot gas innocent children to death, you can’t use chemical weapons of mass destruction, then — and weapons of mass destruction — then we mean it.”

Other members of Congress from both parties are refraining for now from taking a firm position one way or the other.

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, said in an interview earlier this week he had not decided yet how to vote because he hasn’t had time to read through all the information associated with the attack.

“Until I do that, I simply cannot conclude from talking heads and yapping television personalities what my position will be,” Hastings said.

Associated Press reporters Tamara Lush, Christine Armario and Kelli Kennedy contributed to this story.

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