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Kyle Potter, Published August 31 2013

Area lawmakers urge Obama to take Syria case to Congress

WASHINGTON – Most North Dakota and Minnesota representatives in Congress say President Barack Obama should seek congressional approval for military intervention in Syria.

On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that President Bashar Assad’s regime was behind an Aug. 21 chemical weapon attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 Syrians, including 400-plus children – far more than previous estimates.

In a separate address, Obama said he is considering a “limited narrow act” but hasn’t yet decided whether to step in.

North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven, along with other critics, said the situation in Syria may not fit the parameters of the War Powers Act, which he said is only appropriate after an attack on the U.S. or its interests abroad, or if such an attack is imminent.

Much like the rest of North Dakota’s congressional delegation, Hoeven said Obama needs to present a clear plan to the American people for Congress to approve before moving ahead with any military action.

Hoeven called the use of chemical weapons “deplorable” and a serious problem, but said the president also needs the backing of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. allies in the region, such as Turkey and Israel, to win his support.

Based on briefings from the White House, Hoeven said, the administration has brought up cratering Syrian runways to cripple Assad’s air force or specifically targeting the remaining chemical weapons.

In an interview with the Forum’s editorial board, Sen. Al Franken said the U.S. must act and indicated he would support an air strike in Syria without prior congressional approval.

As justification, the Minnesota Democrat pointed to the controversial War Powers Act, which allows the president to bypass Congress and commence military action for up to 60 days. Franken stressed that he would not support a traditional “boots on the ground” military invasion of Syria.

A poll released by NBC News on Friday showed 42 percent of Americans support military intervention in response to the use of chemical weapons, compared with 50 percent opposed. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed said Congress should approve any attack in advance.

Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson signed on to a letter with a few other members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation demanding that Obama seek congressional approval for any military intervention in Syria.

But that’s not an indication he supports U.S. involvement in the Middle Eastern country, where a civil war has raged for more than two years. Just the opposite: Peterson said he doesn’t support any action, at least for now.

“There is no strategic threat to the United States,” he said.

North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer signed that letter, too, but said he’s prepared to support the president “as long as he’s clear about what he wants to do and why.”

The same may not be true for the rest of the Republican-controlled House.

“I know there is very little appetite … to do anything military-wise,” Cramer said.

Cramer criticized Obama for comments he made about Syria last year. The president referred to the use of chemical weapons there as a “red line.”

“His problem is that he’s rarely decisive,” Cramer said. “Now he finds himself trapped by his own words.”

In a statement, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp stopped short of calling for congressional approval for any action but urged Obama to “openly consult with Congress and the American people to explain the need for action.”

“The Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is reprehensible. But we need to be very careful about entering a conflict abroad – even in a limited scope,” the North Dakota Democrat said.

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement that Obama “needs to consult with Congress and work with our allies and get approval from Congress before any major military action.”


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502