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November 28, 2014

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Nevada delegation still has unanswered questions on Syria

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Barack Obama, flanked by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks to media in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, before a meeting with members of Congress to discuss the situation in Syria.

It will be at least another week before Congress is called to vote on President Barack Obama’s proposal to bomb targets in Syria.

And while Nevada’s congressional representatives are staying tight-lipped about how they will vote, there are signs, at least among the rank and file, that not all are comfortable with the scope of the proposed strikes.

“The administration has not yet articulated what a potential strike on Syria would accomplish beyond a ‘punishment’ of the Assad regime,” said Republican Rep. Joe Heck's spokesman Greg Lemon in a statement Tuesday. “There are still many more detailed questions that must be answered in order to make a case for military action.”

“The president must demonstrate to the American people and Congress that any use of military force would be strategic, effective and short term and promote our national security and stability in the Middle East,” Democratic Rep. Dina Titus said Tuesday.

“I believe the American people deserve and rightfully expect to know that any engagement with Syria is in the best interests of our country and will truly help those it is intended to help,” Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford said last Thursday, following Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that officials had determined that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched chemical weapons against his own people.

And Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, said he would "urge President Obama and Congress...to only consider military action as a last resort."

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the weekend, Obama has conceded to clamors from members of Congress not to take action without their consent — including from Nevada representatives. Syria will be the first item up for business when Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 9.

Kerry and other representatives of the Obama administration are working overtime to win supporters in Congress, holding briefings, testifying publicly before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and pressing lawmakers to authorize a campaign they say is urgent.

The Obama administration briefed lawmakers about Syria on Sunday and Tuesday, and held a special call-in session with Senate Republicans on Saturday afternoon. Members of the Nevada delegation are anticipating several more such briefing sessions before it is time to vote next week.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already thinks he has the votes to deliver the Senate in favor of a strike — even if there is a filibuster against the effort.

“I believe the use of military force against Syria is both justified and necessary,” Reid said in a statement Saturday evening, after Obama announced that he would seek Congress’s opinion on the strike plans, delaying initial reported plans to retaliate before Labor Day. “I believe the United States has a moral obligation as well as a national security interest in defending innocent lives against such atrocities, and in enforcing international norms such as the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons.”

Three of the four party leaders in Congress apparently agree: Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have all expressed support for a military strike. Only Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has remained silent.

But while the leaders support the strike, it is not clear that the rest of Congress will.

Many of Congress’s top foreign policy experts have been calling for a response to Syria’s increasingly violent 2 1/2-year civil conflict, but other lawmakers are skeptical that limited military strikes are the best way to protect American interests.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted between Thursday and Saturday and released Tuesday morning found the general public is also skeptical. Only 29 percent of Americans support the idea of Syrian air strikes, while 48 percent are opposed. Democrats were more wary of strikes than Republicans.

Meanwhile, Obama has had difficulty earning international support for a military response. Last week, the United Nations Security Council failed to authorize an incursion of any scope into Syria. So did the British Parliament, despite the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron was more vocal about the need for intervention than Obama.

That leaves France, and possibly, Turkey, as potential allies should the U.S. decide to go ahead with strikes.

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