The opinions of Queens’ federal lawmakers on whether the United States should launch an attack on Syria in response to its government’s apparent use of chemical weapons against civilians run the gamut.
Some support the action, at least one is opposed, at least one admits he is undecided and several of the others issued varying statements before President Obama announced that he would seek congressional authorization for military action last Friday.
Prior to that, administration officials had been telling the media the United States was preparing to strike. But while the president is commander in chief of the Armed Forces, only Congress can declare war, and the War Powers Act passed near the end of the Vietnam conflict only allows a president to launch military action without congressional approval in response to an attack on Americans or as a pre-emptive measure to thwart an imminent attack.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said in a statement on Tuesday that it was correct for the president to seek the approval of Congress before acting — and that he is undecided about whether to grant that approval.
Meeks said any action would have to involve other nations and be limited in scope, with no American forces on the ground in the strife-ridden country.
“The credibility of the international community is at stake as much as the credibility of the U.S. in responding to the Assad regime’s violations,” Meeks said. “Acting unilaterally would be inimical to U.S. long-term strategic interests.”
Saying he is undecided, Meeks continued, “I need to know whether other countries will be joining us in this action. I also need to know whether any of our allies face imminent danger of retaliation by the Assad regime or its backers.”
The president said a year ago that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military used chemical weapons in his war against the rebels, he would be crossing a “red line” that would change Obama’s view on whether the United States should get involved in the conflict.
On Aug. 21, hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb were killed in what appears to have been a chemical weapons strike, according to reports that say the victims had no visible injuries but simply died, while survivors were left gasping for breath, the hallmarks of such a strike. Whether the attack was launched by Assad — or rebels seeking to gain sympathy in a Nazi Reichstag fire type of ruse —is debatable, according to multiple media outlets, but the United States government says it has determined the regime was responsible.
One Queens lawmaker who needed no further information to decide her position is Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn, Queens), who declared last week that she will not support any military action — but that was before Obama said he would go to Congress.
“The use of chemical weapons by Syrian leaders is unconscionable, deplorable and must be condemned,” Velazquez said in a statement. “However, just as I have forcefully opposed previous military actions, I oppose this one. Before the administration takes further action, it must seek explicit Congressional authorization as prescribed under the War Powers Act.”
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing), without taking a position on any attack itself, said before the president spoke Friday that he should get congressional approval before acting.
Meng later “applauded” the president for going to lawmakers first and said she would listen carefully as he makes his case.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Suffolk, Nassau, Queens), conversely, said in response to a Chronicle inquiry that he supports an attack even before the president spoke.
If there is no retaliation, Israel said, Assad will be emboldened, and so “I believe that, together with our international partners and Syria’s neighbors, a surgical and targeted air strike is needed as long as it is limited to degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and does not involve U.S. ground forces.”
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also said they support a limited attack, in response to the Chronicle.
Spokespersons for Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens) and Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) said the lawmakers could not immediately be reached for comment.