The PJ Tatler

Black Caucus Members Struggle Over Syria Votes

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, some with antiwar records, are struggling over how to vote on the authorization of force allowing President Obama to strike at Bashar al-Assad in Syria.


“I think the most important impression that I am getting, having been in a series of conference calls, briefings, meetings with Syrian-Americans that I met within in my constituency last evening, who painted a picture of humanitarian disaster, but also into a call of about 300 constituents as I was leaving Houston today to come to this briefing,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told reporters on the Hill today.

She said the method of chemical weapons makes it “a very tough call for members and also for the American people to understand, because there are no words in there such as self-defense.”

On her eventual vote, Jackson Lee said she’s still “enormously open.”

“My decision will be based upon the — not the issue of credibility. And I wish we’d not hold that standard up. I think America has shown itself to be credible. Our president has shown himself to be credible,” she added. “…But I think the important point is for the American people is that what is their stake in this? What is the danger to them if this is not done?”

“Do the American people understand the gravity of chemical weapons? And I think more than anyone else, the commander in chief of a nation would be an excellent person to articulate both his mission, his passion, and what is the impact and danger of chemical weapons. For those of us who lived in this nation, it might be difficult to understand.”


Jackson Lee indicated there won’t be a uniform CBC stance on the vote.

“I don’t want to speculate on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus,” she said. “All individual members, patriots, Americans.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) told reporters he hasn’t made up his mind.

“There is still information to be gathered. I still have some concerns. I intend to come to some more meetings. But as far as having made a decision as of yet, I have not,” he said.

From constituents back home, he said, he’s being told to “study.”

“I mean, of course, there’s a large number of them that say they don’t want you to go to war, but a number of them said study, get as much information as you can possibly get, you know, to make a decision. And that is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to gather in as much information as I can get so I can make a decision,” Meeks continued.

As far as where other members are headed in their decisions, “People have come away from the break to really try to dive into what’s going on here.”

Meeks said he thinks the White House is “trying to decide” if more information should be released to the public in making its case.

Still, he added, his concerns haven’t been “alleviated” by the closed-door briefings but “there’s some discussion that it has triggered.”


Many CBC members, including Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), were on the bipartisan letters urging Obama to bring the authorization before Congress.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told MSNBC that he’s getting a lot of pushback from his constituents.

“I just literally ran into a nurse within the last half an hour at Johns Hopkins, which is in my district, and she said, ‘I beg you, please, vote against this,’ and she said — I said but don’t you understand that these are biological and chemical weapons? You would expect a nurse would understand,” Cummings said. “And she said, I understand, she says, but, you know, they’ve been — people have been using these weapons for years. And she said, you know, I just came from my son’s school, and they didn’t even have books.”

What members are grappling with, he said, is “whether the cure that is being proposed, that is these limited strikes and limited effort in scope and duration, whether that is a cure or whether that makes the situation worse.”

“I admire members that have already made up their minds. Because I’m telling you, as the more information I learn, the more I am convinced that we have got to try to figure out what happens after this,” Cummings added. “Because I do believe, from everything that I’ve read, that President Assad will retaliate, I mean, that he’s going to do something.”


“…When I’ve gotten 95 percent of the calls coming into my office saying no it makes it very difficult, and that’s why the president has got to address my constituents.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the lone vote against retaliatory action for the 9/11 attacks and another member who asked Obama to ask Congress for authorization, has been largely mum on her opinion for the past several days.

“This is not Afghanistan, Iraq nor Libya. In 2001, the resolution that I voted against was a blank check. It’s been used, I know, over 30 times to engage in some form of conflict and hostility. And, in fact, that resolution needs to be repealed, because that is a resolution that allowed for an open-ended war,” Lee said on Aug. 31.

“In this instance, the president said that should force be used, it’s going to be targeted, it’s going to be limited, it’s not going to be open-ended. We have to believe that.”

MORE: Holmes Norton says Obama may need to rely on Dem loyalty

Join the conversation as a VIP Member