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Local Lawmakers Divided On Response To Chemical Weapons In Syria

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A Syrian protester waves the Syrian revolutionary flag, during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy to condemn the alleged poison gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus, during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy, in Amman, Jordan.
(AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)
A Syrian protester waves the Syrian revolutionary flag, during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy to condemn the alleged poison gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus, during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy, in Amman, Jordan.

Lawmakers in the region are divided over how President Obama should respond to reports that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people.

Before being elected to Congress, Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was a staff member for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the eighties, he was sent to document reports that chemical weapons were used against Kurds in Iraq. Between that experience and watching the U.S. go to war with Iraq under false intelligence, the Democrat says he's waiting for the Obama Administration to prove its assertion the Syrian government engaged in chemical warfare.

"It's important that they put together the case," Van Hollen says. "After all, in Iraq, President Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; turned out not to be true. Here we know that Assad has chemical weapons, and the question is whether he's the one or his forces were the ones that used them."

Many lawmakers say the White House lacks the authority to start a bombing campaign without Congressional approval. Congressman Scott Rigell (R-Va.) says the president is obligated to call Congress back into session before taking military action.

"He's talked about consulting with Congress, but by that he means, at least to this point, individual members of Congress," Rigell says. "That is not in any way an acceptable substitute for engaging the institution itself."

While Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) says the White House should normally lay out its case before Congress, he says the current congressional recess is prohibitive.

"Given the fact that Congress is not back until the 9th of September, that's probably too long to wait in this particular situation," Connolly says.

The White House says it's planning to declassify a report on the alleged chemical attack this week while the president is reviewing his options.

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