TEXARKANA, Ark. — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas said Monday that President Barack Obama needs to explain what America’s interest would be in attacking Syria, while Republican rival and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton said he’s worried the presidency would be weakened if Obama’s request is voted down.
The two rivals and other members of the state’s congressional delegation were split on whether to back a military strike against the Syrian government, which U.S. officials say used sarin gas to kill at least 1,429 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children. Obama announced Saturday that he would seek congressional approval for action against Syria when lawmakers return to Washington next week.
Pryor said he has questions that must be answered as weighs the vote, including what interests would be served and the goals of any military action. Pryor, a Democrat, said he believed a draft of Obama’s request for military action is too broad. The draft resolution asks Congress to authorize force to "deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade" the ability of Syrian President Assad’s regime to use chemical weapons. It doesn’t lay out a timeline for action.
"I’m really waiting on him to articulate the American interest and what goals or what end-state he would like to achieve," Pryor said as he campaigned at a steelworkers picnic in Texarkana on Monday.
Pryor said he also wanted to see the president build a broad-based international coalition and explain how he would measure success.
"I don’t want to get into another situation like we’ve seen before where we get into one of these things and it’s hard to measure if we’re being successful or not," Pryor said. "I think the president needs to be very clear on that on the front end and I’m not satisfied in that area yet."
Cotton, a first-term congressman who is challenging Pryor next year, said he supports the U.S. taking action against Syria and planned to be involved in drafting the resolution that the House will vote on later this month. Cotton, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he believed it was in the United States’ interest to take action against Syria after its use of chemical weapons.
"What I hope to do is encourage not just my colleagues to support action but also encourage the president to take effective and decisive action," Cotton said.
Cotton said he was worried what impact voting down the president’s request would have. Cotton said he believed intervening was a national security issue.
Other Republican members of the state’s delegation expressed reservations about the president’s request.
Republican Rep. Tim Griffin said the president faces an uphill battle in convincing him that the U.S. should take action against Syria.
"I am open to listening to whatever presentation or briefing is available, but it’s going to be hard to convince me we should give the president a license to go to war on this issue, particularly in light of how he has handled it so far," Griffin said.
Republican Sen. John Boozman said he’s pleased Obama is seeking congressional approval before taking action but said he has concerns about what the president hopes to accomplish by intervening.
"If I had to vote today, I would probably vote against it with the knowledge I have now," Boozman said.