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posted: 9/4/2013 5:30 AM

Local congressional leaders struggling with Syria

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  • Randy Hultgren

      Randy Hultgren

  • Bill Foster

      Bill Foster

  • Tammy Duckworth

      Tammy Duckworth

  • Mike Quigley

      Mike Quigley

  • Brad Schneider

      Brad Schneider

  • Peter Roskam

      Peter Roskam

 
 

While congressional party leaders on both sides lined up Tuesday to support military action in Syria, suburban members of Congress aren't quite as committed.

"I'm keeping my options open," Congressman Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat who represents portions of western Cook County and eastern DuPage County, said Tuesday. "I'm waiting for further briefing. Everyone, with issues this big, usually takes their time."

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Last week, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth was one of the first suburban congressional leaders to speak about military intervention in Syria after the State Department acknowledged chemical weapons had been used by the Syrian government against rebels. U.S. officials claimed the chemical weapon attack killed nearly 1,500 people, including hundreds of children.

Duckworth urged caution, though she supported military action.

"While the United States cannot stand by as innocent civilians are being massacred, it's my responsibility as a member of Congress to make sure we don't commit resources, the most precious of which are our men and women in uniform, with no comprehensive plan for our involvement," Duckworth said in a statement.

Since President Obama announced he would seek congressional support before acting in Syria, White House officials have held talks with congressional leaders to shore up support for a military response.

Though House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor publicly backed Obama's call for a military strike, suburban Republicans haven't followed their party leader's suit.

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, the Republican deputy whip from Wheaton, has been mum on the topic. Officials in Congressman Randy Hultgren's office sent a terse response to questions seeking the Winfield Republican's opinion on possible U.S. responses to Syria's actions.

"Rep. Hultgren signed the letter with more than 140 Democrats and Republicans in the House asking the President to follow the Constitution and seek congressional authorization prior to committing any U.S. military assets," wrote Hultgren's communications director Jameson Cunningham. "He will carefully weigh all of the options before deciding on a course of action."

Obama has said he has no intention of putting "boots on the ground" in Syria, meaning the military's involvement will not involve an invasion. That's one area where all suburban legislators find common ground.

"I believe the United States should not, must not, engage in a long-term military engagement in the Syrian civil war," said U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat, in an emailed statement. "The (Obama) administration is clear that no U.S. troops be placed on the ground in Syria, and I think there is broad recognition that the only solution to ending the civil war is a political one."

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat, also believes the U.S. military should have no physical presence in Syria.

"He believes any action should be a limited and targeted response that shows the Assad regime, and the international community, that the use of chemical weapons is an unacceptable precedent and will not be tolerated," said Foster spokeswoman Megan Jacobs.

Traditional U.S. allies balking at participating in a response against the Syrian government has given many in Congress pause. Duckworth noted concern for the lack of international support last week in her statement, and Quigley said it also troubles him.

Schneider said the Syrian government "must be held accountable by the international community if we are to preserve the international rejection of chemical weapons."

Like many of his congressional colleagues, Quigley is uneasy about ratcheting up military action in the Middle East but believes the use of chemical weapons plays a significant part in his decision-making process.

"We haven't punished everyone who has used chemical weapons," Quigley said.

"But it's a strong part of the equation for me."

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