San Joaquin Valley Republicans skeptical about Syria attack plan

McClatchy Washington BureauSeptember 4, 2013 

— San Joaquin Valley congressional Republicans are resisting the Obama administration’s request for authorization to attack Syria, even as lawmakers refine the proposal.

Some GOP members appear dead set in their opposition to a Syria intervention, such as Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay. Other Californians say they are leaning no on the upcoming high-stakes war vote, including Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford.

“I have a lot of unanswered questions, from what the American interests to what our strategy will be,” Denham said in an interview Wednesday, adding that “all of the questions I have, my constituents have as well.”

Valadao, likewise, said in an interview Wednesday that he was a “lean no,” based on his own questions as well as the apparently widespread skepticism of his constituents in Fresno, Kern, Tulare and Kings counties.

“I’ve had more personal comments to me on this issue than on any other issue, and they’re all saying no,” Valadao said. “They’re fed up with war.”

An Air Force veteran representing Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County, Denham said he thinks a military action authorization would fail if it came to a House vote this week. That could change; indeed, some Valley representatives confided Wednesday they sensed congressional sentiment may be shifting toward support of military action.

On Wednesday afternoon, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer supported the use-of-force authorization that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote. Valadao said that the Senate committee vote suggested some momentum was moving in favor of the military force authorization.

Still, underscoring the administration’s continuing political challenge, no House member from the area between Stockton and Bakersfield is publicly supporting action. Only one, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, suggested he may be leaning toward support.

“I told the White House that I’m open to considering support, but I want to know more definition of what the plan is,” Costa said in an interview Wednesday, adding that “if our resolution is going to parallel the Senate’s, that would provide the type of definition I’m looking for.”

The Senate measure would limit military action against Syria to 60 days, with a possible 30-day extension, and would also rule out ground troops being sent into the Middle Eastern nation of 23 million. A House version has not yet been publicly released.

Members of Congress often withhold public commitments until the last minute, particularly on dicey issues. Giving a green light to lethal military action, moreover, is a new test for many. While 12 House members represent congressional districts in the greater Central Valley spanning the region from Bakersfield to the Oregon border, only one was in office during the 2002 Iraq War authorization vote.

That member, Vietnam War veteran Rep. Mike Thompson, R-St. Helena, voted in 2002 against the Iraq war. He is now undecided on Syria, with spokesman Austin Vevurka saying Wednesday that Thompson “will not commit to voting one way or the other until he knows exactly what the authorization bill will look like, and has reviewed all the intelligence.”

Similarly, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, is continuing to “review the information and monitor the situation” and will “make a final decision after a House floor debate concludes and the details of the authorization bill are known,” spokesperson Lauren Smith said Wednesday.

One of Thompson’s colleagues on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, likewise says more information is needed, though he says it with a bit of an edge.

Nunes, while saying he has “not categorically ruled out” supporting military force, has drafted a bill that calls on the administration to first return with detailed answers, including projected cost estimates and further explanation of what it means to “degrade” Syria’s chemical weapons capacity.

Further complicating any effort to predict an outcome, House Republican leaders are not whipping either support or opposition to a measure they call a “vote of conscience.” Though the top two House Republicans now support military action, the House majority whip who represents part of Tulare County and who usually corrals and counts votes, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, told the Bakersfield Californian this week that “I like to have everything before me before I make this kind of judgment.”

McClintock, whose district includes much of the Sierra Nevada mountains from Lake Tahoe to Sequoia National Park, told National Public Radio last weekend that he was “deeply skeptical of American military involvement in Syria in any form” and added that he was “very skeptical that a war, once it’s begun, could be limited.”

McClintock’s office did not respond to multiple queries Wednesday..

Email: mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10

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