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In Virginia, survey says congressmen split over Syria

Thursday, September 5, 2013

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia’s congressional delegation is not of a single mind over President Barack Obama’s request to authorize a military strike against Syria, and some members are still making up their minds.

An Associated Press survey Tuesday and Wednesday of the state’s 11 House members and two senators finds that six either flatly oppose or are leaning against a resolution for a strike against the Syrian government for suspected use of chemical weapons in the country’s civil war. Four support it or are leaning toward supporting it when a vote is likely taken next week.

Three remain undecided, including 5th District Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, whose district includes part of Henry County.

Ninth District Rep. Morgan Griffith of Salem, who represents Martinsville, Patrick County and most of Henry County, is among those leaning against a strike.

The United States is considering a punitive strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, blamed by the U.S. and the Syrian opposition for an alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The survey — part of a nationwide AP inventory of congressional sentiment on the issue — asked each member of the delegation Tuesday to select what best described his position from a list of five options: For a strike, leaning for it, undecided, leaning against a strike or against it.

Results among Virginians mirrored results nationally showing little correlation to party affiliation.

For instance, the three Virginians who were unambiguously for authorizing a strike share little else in common on policy issues — Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of suburban Richmond on one side, and Rep. James P. Moran of Alexandria and Sen. Tim Kaine, both Democrats, on the other.

Kaine cast a vote Wednesday on a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee to authorize the strike.

“A failure to respond to such a blatant violation of longstanding international norms not only signals an acceptance of this atrocity, it also jeopardizes the lives of our service members in combat both today and in the future,” the state’s junior senator said in a statement announcing his vote.

Sen. Mark R. Warner was described by his press secretary, Kevin Hall, only as being undecided with no further elaboration on his thinking.

The lone Virginian on record as being firmly against a U.S. attack on the Syrian government was Rep. J. Randy Forbes of Chesapeake. His press aide, Alex Gray, also did not elaborate

All five House members who described themselves as leaning against an attack were Republicans: Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Scott Rigell, Frank Wolf, Griffith and Rob Wittman.

Goodlatte said he reserves the right to change his mind if he hears a compelling case during classified House briefings this week or Monday.

“I have told my constituents that while I have a lot of questions about it and I am skeptical about it, I would wait until I am fully briefed and fully informed about what the president is proposing before I made any final decision,” Goodlatte said in an interview Monday after a Labor Day parade in Buena Vista.

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Fairfax County was the only Virginian leaning for a punitive air strike on Syria, “but no boots on the ground,” said his spokesman, George Burke.

House members who, like Warner, were undecided were Hurt and Democrat Robert C. “Bobby” Scott of Newport News.

“I believe the precedence that will be set by engaging Syria militarily without the support of the United Nations, or at least an alternate coalition demonstrating an international consensus, would be problematic,” Scott said in a statement.


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