N.D. delegation cautious on Syrian intervention

North Dakota’s congressional delegation say they are still gathering information before making up their minds on whether to support President Obama’s proposed military strike on Syria.

The upcoming congressional vote prompted Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D.-N.D., to cancel events in North Dakota this week to return to Washington, D.C., Tuesday night to attend briefings on the issue.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was in Washington last week for a briefing on Syria. He plans to fulfill a full schedule of North Dakota events this week that includes hosting Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, on a tour of western North Dakota. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also is continuing his North Dakota schedule in expectation of a full briefing on the Syrian matter when he returns to Washington Monday.

Obama’s proposed military strike on Syria comes after reports that the regime of Syrian president Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons against its citizens. Assad attributed the use of chemical weapons to Islamic rebels.

Congress ends its recess next week. Heitkamp has been receiving information on the Syrian issue through phone conferences but said she needs to be in Washington to adequately involve herself in the discussion.

“This is an extraordinary issue, and it’s an important time. It’s essential to get as much information as I can before I make any decision,” Heitkamp said in Minot Tuesday.

Heitkamp said she has a “healthy skepticism” about military involvement but hasn’t made up her mind.

“Over the next week, I will be seeking more information from the administration on how potential strikes meet U.S. strategic needs, the end goal of them and how they could impact our long-term standing in the Middle East. The responses I get, as well as how the authorization for force is written and what I hear from North Dakotans, will all help me decide how I will vote,” she said in a prepared statement.

Hoeven was among a group briefed by the president’s chief of staff at the White House last Thursday. He participated in a phone conference with Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior administration officials Saturday and received additional information from the White House by phone Monday.

“At this point, I am reserving judgment,” he said. “It’s really going to come down to what the administration’s plan is and whether it can be effective in Syria.”

He said he does not want to see the United States drawn into an extended Middle East conflict.

“I have to be convinced that the administration has a thoughtful plan that can work, that it is limited, that we have no boots on the ground and that we get more support and work with our allies,” he said.

Hoeven and Heitkamp said they are hearing from constituents who are wary of involvement in Syria. Cramer, holding a public forum in Minot Tuesday, heard opposition to sending military members into harm’s way from members of his audience.

“You represent the vast majority of North Dakotans in that they are war weary,” Cramer told the crowd.

Cramer said he has enough concerns after reading the president’s war resolution that he cannot support it based on currently available information. But he plans to settle his decision after learning more at a classified briefing Monday.

“When it comes to committing military assets,” he said, “I think it requires prudence.”