Congress returns to Capitol with Syria at forefront


WASHINGTON – Congress returned to Capitol Hill on Monday with the Obama administration pushing full throttle for authorization to launch a military strike against the Syrian government in response to its use of lethal chemical weapons against its own people.

The White House effort, however, gained no ground with the Arkansas delegation, who have all voiced opposition to U.S. military intervention in Syria with the exception of Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.

Cotton last week announced his support for a military strike. He was invited to the White House on Monday, along with a group of other Republicans, to discuss Syria with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

“Today’s meeting was an opportunity for Tom to ask that the administration follow a course of action that will actually protect our national security interests and not just give the President political cover,” said Caroline Rabbitt, a spokeswoman for Cotton.

Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, attended a classified briefing on Syria that the White House provided for lawmakers returning from a month-long summer recess.

Womack, who had been skeptical of intervention, left the early evening briefing saying he “cannot and will not support military action in Syria.”

Griffin had previously voiced his opposition to military intervention, as have Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro.

The Arkansas lawmakers have all been inundated with telephone calls, emails and letters from Arkansas residents expressing their strong opposition to a military strike.

“My constituents have clearly spoken: They do not support American intervention in Syria,” Womack said.

Boozman had received more than 2,400 emails by Monday with only 19 in support of military action, according to spokesman Patrick Creamer. The office was also receiving about 250 calls a day with only a handful in support of a military strike, he said.

“The White House has reached out to us but the senator still believes they haven’t made their case (for military intervention),” Creamer said.

Pryor has heard from thousands of Arkansans — in person and through phone calls, emails and social media — with the vast majority opposed to military action in Syria, according to press secretary Lucy Speed.

Griffin said he has received more than 3,300 messages from constituents that are running about 85 percent against military action.

“I’ve not seen another issue as unifying to folks like this issue,” Griffin said.

Crawford’s office has received hundreds of calls from constituents who also oppose a military strike while only a handful support it, according to his staff.

Cotton has also received a large number of calls, emails and letters on both sides of the debate, according to Rabbitt.

“The feedback is always helpful, and, as always, we try to be responsive to constituent questions. We’ve been keeping Arkansans informed with posts on our website blog and will continue to do that in the coming days,” she said.