North Texas lawmakers leaning against attacking Syria

Maria Recio

For the usually pro-military North Texas lawmakers in Congress, the prospect of a U.S. strike in Syria to punish the Assad regime for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own citizens is a very hard sell.

They are largely lining up against a strike in Syria, some vehemently so, as the six U.S. House members who represent portions of Tarrant County and the state’s two senators consider looming congressional votes.

While Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Lewisville is “emphatically ‘no,’” as is Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the lone Democrat in the Tarrant County delegation, is still looking at the issue. Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn is “no,” for now, while Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has not expressed his opposition but has made numerous media appearances voicing his skepticism.

“I am a ‘no’ on Syria. No other discussion,” Burgess said in an interview. Pressed to explain, he said he had reviewed the classified material offered by the White House and found it “thin,” but his opposition to a strike goes beyond that. “I don’t see how this is a deterrent,” he said.

Burgess then described his position as “an unequivocal ‘no.’ We go in with cruise missiles and do damage to runways. Then, what? You cannot control what happens next.”

Asked about the deaths of children from the chemical weapons attack shown on television, he said his “conscience is in a different place.”

The calls from constituents are against a strike. “I’m getting no calls saying, ‘Please go in,’” he said.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, who chairs a subcommittee that funds the State Department and other international agencies, said she has been consulted by Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials since President Barack Obama decided to call for congressional action.

“From everything I have learned, intervening in Syria’s civil war is not in the best interest of the United States. Our homeland is not under attack,” Granger said. “The administration has not made the case to Congress or the American people that a military strike would be in our national security interest or the national security interest of our allies in the Middle East.”

Granger said that she had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from constituents opposed to a strike.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, first elected in 1984, has always been a pro-defense vote. He said military action should be considered carefully.

“You’ve got to show me what the national security issue and the national strategic issue are for the U.S. to get directly involved militarily in Syria, and right now, based on the information I’ve received, I don’t see it,” Barton said.

“It is a civil war between two sides where neither seems to be very friendly towards the interests of the U.S.,” Barton said. “If there are national security or strategic interests, tell me what they are. But if you can’t show me, then my answer is we shouldn’t get involved. My vote will reflect that.”

It is an equally tough decision for newcomers Williams and Veasey, elected last year.

“It’s reprehensible for any nation to use chemical weapons, especially on its own people,” said Williams. “After attending a classified briefing by the White House on Sunday, I am not convinced that attacking Syria and putting our soldiers at risk is in the best interest of our national security. While I support the president seeking congressional approval, at this time I cannot and will not support U.S. military intervention in Syria.”

Veasey is still deciding.

“Intelligence reports have confirmed that on August 21st, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad launched a chemical weapons attack against the Syrian people, killing over 1,400 innocent men, women, and children,” he said in a statement. “The president has asked that Congress, as the people’s representatives, be part of the decision on how to respond to this heinous act. I have heard from my constituents on this issue and I look forward to their continued input. In the coming days I will continue to review all evidence, consult with national security experts, and my colleagues in Congress so that we can make an informed and thoughtful decision.”

Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, said simply, “I will not vote for U.S. military intervention in Syria. The evidence that President Obama has presented Congress is not enough to overcome my serious reservations. There are too many unanswered questions and unclear objectives.”

Texas’ senators may vote on the issue as early as this week.

Cruz, while being careful to say that he is still examining the evidence, has been harshly critical of the Obama administration approach.

“I will continue to keep an open mind and hear out the administration’s arguments, but I remain deeply skeptical of the proposed action in Syria,” Cruz said after attending a classified briefing held at the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The strike that has been laid out does not seem to be focused on advancing U.S. national security interests. Inserting the United States military into a sectarian civil war in Syria is profoundly perilous. To assume this risk, we must be confident the potential national security benefits of such a mission outweigh the risks.”

As for Cornyn, he would vote “no” if he had to do so today, said Megan Mitchell, Cornyn’s spokesperson.

“What he is waiting to see is a credible plan from the administration that will achieve our national security objectives,” she said. “Specifically, a plan to keep chemical weapons out of the hands of terrorists.”

By Maria Recio
McClatchy Washington Bureau