Obama Has Little Support in Florida Delegation on Syria Action
Around the State
As President Barack Obama looks to round up congressmen and senators to support military intervention in Syria, he will have little luck winning the backing of legislators in the Sunshine State. The Republican majority in the caucus is firmly against it; the Democrats are very divided.
Florida’s two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, have split along party lines on whether to get involved in Syria.
“There should be moral outrage over the use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians in Syria,” Nelson insisted at the end of August. “At this point I believe it appropriate to take military action with NATO and our regional allies. Inaction would only lead to greater suffering and instability in the region and would further embolden Assad.”
Rubio, on the other hand, voted against military intervention during a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
“I have, for over two years, urged the president to pursue a more robust engagement in the hopes of helping the Syrian people replace Assad with a stable, secular and moderate government,” Rubio said. “However, while I have long argued forcefully for engagement in empowering the Syrian people, I have never supported the use of U.S. military force in the conflict. And I still don’t."
Only a handful of Florida’s 27 members of the U.S. House have come out in support of Obama’s call to action against the Syrian regime.
U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla, has won some national notice in taking on the president from his own party on the issue. Slate ran a story on Grayson Thursday reporting that he is lining up votes against military action in Syria. Grayson was also the subject of an article in the Atlantic, which was published late Wednesday, about his opposition to attacking Syria.
“If we could end suffering in Syria through a military strike, that would be a decision worth thinking about,” Grayson told the Atlantic. “But no one is suggesting that's going to happen here. No one is suggesting this will end the dictatorship. No one is suggesting this will defeat the al-Nusra rebels who want sharia law and no rights for women. No one is suggesting this will actually prevent a gas attack in the future. No one is suggesting this will do much of anything except give a slap on the wrist to Assad in hopes that maybe something good will come out of that.”
Grayson is not the only Florida Democrat who opposes military action against Syria. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla, sent Obama a letter at the end of last week in which she spelled out her opposition.
But other Democrats from Florida are falling in line behind Obama. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), said on Tuesday she fully supported Obama’s call for military intervention.
“It is my firm opinion that the use of limited military force is not only warranted, but necessary to send a resolute message to Bashar al-Assad that these types of atrocities cannot, and will not be tolerated by the United States,” Wasserman Schultz said. “ .... The evidence is clear to me that Syria violated a 100-year-old international norm against use of chemical weapons as a legitimate weapon of war. Accountability for this horrific violation should be certain and severe.
“The use of military force must be weighed carefully, and be held as a last resort. President Obama was right to seek congressional approval of his proposal to hold Assad accountable,” Wasserman Schultz added.
Most Florida congressmen in the Republican caucus have expressed their opposition to military action and their numbers increased this week.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., announced he would not support resolutions authorizing military action against the Syrian government.
“With no direct threat to the United States and no discernible military objective, I cannot support committing American military might to a civil war in the Middle East where the lines are blurred between friend and foe,” Buchanan said. “The case has not been made for why U.S. involvement is vital to our national security.”
Buchanan noted 95 percent of the constituents who reached out to him on this issue opposed military action in Syria.
“The last thing we want to do is incite further chaos in a part of the world that is already unstable,” Buchanan said
After listening to testimony this week from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Rep.Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., announced on Wednesday he would oppose military action against Syria. DeSantis sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
But one Florida Republican is open to backing Obama’s proposed military actions. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, is a supporter of attacking Syria.
“We’ve been aware of Assad’s chemical-weapon stockpile for years, yet we failed to hold him accountable,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Wednesday. “The United Nations has been completely useless at effecting any change in Syria, thanks in no small part to Russia and China’s persistent stonewalling at the Security Council. And Congress has certainly had our fair share of missed opportunities to affect the course of events in Syria."
As of Thursday, Florida Republicans Rubio, Gus Bilirakis, Jeff Miller, Steve Southerland, Ted Yoho, DeSantis, Bill Posey, Dan Webster, Rich Nugent, Bill Young, Dennis Ross, Buchanan, Tom Rooney and Trey Radel appear poised to vote against military action in Syria. Ros-Lehtinen is the only Republican in the Florida delegation ready to support Obama on this issue. Democrats Nelson, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Wasserman Schultz are supporting military operations against Syria while Grayson and Castor are against it. Republicans Ander Crenshaw, John Mica and Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrats Corrine Brown, Patrick Murphy, Lois Frankel, Frederica Wilson and Joe Garcia are publicly undecided on the issue.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.