Tom Kacich: Congressional delegation pondering Syria position

Tom Kacich: Congressional delegation pondering Syria position

If Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate, opposes President Obama on the issue of a military strike against Syria, it will be a major surprise.

In Champaign last Saturday, Durbin declined to say whether he would vote to use military force against the Syrian government, but hinted that he was leaning in favor of it.

"What does our silence say? That's what we have to debate. If we are silent after what Assad has done, what does it say about the use of chemical weapons and our moral leadership in this world?" Durbin said.

A Washington Post survey Tuesday counted Durbin among the undecideds (with both Indiana senators, Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Dan Coats).

But if Durbin doesn't back his former Senate colleague from Illinois, it would be unusual. During the first two years of Obama's presidency, for example, Durbin was one of 10 Democratic senators to vote with the president on 100 percent of the major issues selected by Congressional Quarterly.

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, meanwhile, is among nine Republican senators already in support of some kind of military action in Syria. Kirk said he favors "a narrow authorization for a missile strike targeting those responsible for using chemical weapons and deterring future use of such weapons."

The survey of House members was incomplete. U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, wasn't listed in the Post's survey, but he said Tuesday that "I am not convinced that a limited strike against Syria at this time is warranted."

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, whose district includes Champaign-Urbana, is in the undecided category, said his spokesman, Andrew Flach.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, whose district includes all of Iroquois County and part of Ford County, is among a small number of House members already committed to supporting military action.

Shimkus issued a lengthy statement on the issue, noting that he voted to use military force in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Al-Qaida had struck a terrible blow against our nation, and the Taliban provided a safe haven for the terrorists and would not hand them over for justice. Removing the Taliban to seek justice against al-Qaida was not a difficult call," he said. "Having served in the military, I knew that there would be those who would pay the ultimate sacrifice. No one knew or believed that we would still be in Afghanistan 12 years later.

"The Iraqi campaign has not been as clear. The mission was to remove a dictator, who threatened the stability of the Middle East by having and possibly using chemical weapons. He had used them on his own citizens years prior, and the international intelligence was in agreement of the threat. I trusted their assessment, our president, and the secretary of state as he made the case before the U.N. I supported the president's request and voted yes. The search for weapons of mass destruction came up empty, and cost our nation lives and money."

Shimkus said he believes the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people, which he called "despicable and horrendous."

"A red line has been crossed, says the president. However, it is President Obama's red line, not one derived in a consensus-based approach. Now since he cannot get international buy-in, he turns to the legislative branch to protect his prestige," said Shimkus. "What will a limited strike do? Will it quicken the end of the turmoil in Syria? Will it empower Islamic radicalism to spread in Syria and elsewhere? Does it empower the Mullahs in Iran? Does it create more turmoil and uncertainty for Israel, Turkey and Jordan?

"My gut tells me it makes matters worse, not better. Its limited actions continue the civil war. It creates another cause for grievance by the Arab world, and it risks this conflict spilling across the borders of our allies."

Governor candidates in Gibson City. All four Republican gubernatorial candidates are scheduled to be in Gibson City on Saturday morning for a meet-and-greet breakfast session with voters.

The Ford County Republican Central Committee is hosting the event from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Railside Golf Course on the north side of Gibson City.

Those scheduled to attend include state Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

"We just want people to come and listen and get involved in the process," Ford County GOP Chairman Tom Bennett said Tuesday. "This won't be a debate, but it will be informational. We hope to see a lot of people there."

This event is not a fundraiser, Bennett stressed. The Ford County Republican Party will provide free breakfast doughnuts, rolls, fruit, juice and coffee. There is no cost to attend the event.

Environmental voting records. State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, received a perfect score from the Illinois Environmental Council, based on her votes on eight issues before the Illinois House this year. Jakobsson was one of 19 legislators to get a 100 percent score from the group.

Other area House members and their scores: Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, 57; Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Charleston, 63; Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka, and Bill Mitchell, D-Decatur, both 63; and Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, 50.

Among area senators, Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, scored an 88; Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, got a 75; Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, and Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, got 63 and Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, scored a 50.

Jakobsson appointed. Jakobsson has been appointed to serve as the Illinois House representative to the Education Commission of the States. The group helps states work together on education policy and provides research and analysis on education topics.

Big contributions. Two longtime local Republican donors recently made contributions to different gubernatorial candidates: $2,500 from Champaign businessman Peter Fox to Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and $1,000 from Champaign attorney David Sholem to Chicago investment banker Bruce Rauner.

Among the two Democratic contenders for governor, Pat Quinn and Bill Daley, the only Champaign-Urbana contribution this year is $5,000 from Teamsters Local 26 to Quinn.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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