As Congress started figuring out how to respond to President Obama’s request for a formal authorization for the use of military force last week, local legislators took all three sides of the debate: for, against, and undecided.
Sen. Robert Menendez strongly supports the plan. As head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week he introduced the bill sought by the administration, voted for it in committee, and continued to defend it.
“At the end of the day, if you just sit back and say, ‘You know what? There’s no consequences to the use of chemical weapons. Go kill another 1,400, go kill another 14,000,’ at what point does the consequences of those actions not only send a message in Syria, but globally?” he said Tuesday, appearing on CNN’s Crossfire show debating military intervention against Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) who is opposed.
“We want the ayatollah in Iran to heed our message,” Menendez continued. “Do not cross that line towards chemical – towards, excuse me, towards nuclear weapons. We want the dictator of North Korea to understand, do not cross a line, as well. This is, I think, even beyond Assad.”
But Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.) is among those staunchly opposed to any American involvement. He chairs the conservative Constitutional Caucus, mostly comprised of right wing Republicans, whose opposition to Obama’s request had threatened to derail it in the House.
(On Tuesday night in a nationally televised speech, Obama said he would ask Congress to delay voting on resolutions authorizing the use of force while waiting to see whether a Russian-backed Syrian offer of removing the country’s chemical weapons would pan out.)
Garrett issued a statement: “As the United States Congress considers military intervention in Syria, per President Obama’s request, I think it’s important to be very honest about what we are considering. Missile strikes – or any other such action – against a sovereign nation is an act of war. This action would be defined as such if any other nation did the same to us. Given that the president has not yet demonstrated why military action is in our best interest, given that the administration will not be constrained to keep boots off the ground, and given that there is no clear end-game, I am against the president’s resolution to go to war in Syria.”
Garrett did say, however, that he was grateful that the president sought Congressional approval – something Garrett believes is required by the Constitution, which assigns the power to declare war to Congress. On Monday, Garrett introduced a bill that would repeal the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Garrett said he believes the War Powers Resolution – originally designed to limit presidential authority, and never accepted as binding by White House officials – actually gives too much power to the president.
At the opposite side of the political spectrum, Bergen County’s other congressman, Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.), wasn’t quick to take a stance.
“I don’t accept that the only alternatives are U.S. military intervention or nothing,” he said in a statement.
“I believe there are other alternatives, including asking the Assad regime to sit down to negotiate a resolution. I’ve been spending the last week meeting with local groups representing both sides of the debate in order to gain as much perspective as possible. I will continue to gather information and make a final decision when it comes time for me to vote.”
Newark’s mayor and Democratic Senate candidate Cory Booker issued a statement praising Obama – but not actually taking a position:
“President Obama did the right thing in deciding to take to Congress the case for military action against Syria. I was pleased to see the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under Senator Menendez’s leadership, return immediately to Washington to consider this matter.
“If elected to the Senate, I will always approach the question of military intervention as a last resort.
“As part of the process of working with Congress, I expect that the president will clearly delineate what the strategic objectives are, and what limited military action will specifically achieve in Syria. As a candidate for office, I do not have access to the same intelligence information as a member of Congress, but I firmly believe that there must be clear, achievable objectives and a credible path to achieving them,” he said in the statement.
A request for comment left on Republican senatorial candidate Steve Lonegan’s answering machine was not returned.