President Obama’s campaign to win congressional backing for a military strike against Syria includes White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, a Minnesota native who has pressed at least one recalcitrant Minnesota Democrat.
The White House call to U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan came Wednesday as Minnesota Democrats find themselves sharply divided on whether to support Obama in the use of military force against Syrian President Bashar Assad for his recent chemical weapons attack against civilians outside Damascus.
Some Minnesota Republicans also have expressed ambivalence about the president’s decision, with Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann expressing strong opposition.
But the split on the Democratic side has exposed divisions even among the anti-war left, represented by Nolan, who calls an attack “folly,” and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who says Assad’s alleged gas attack against vulnerable men, women and children requires a military response if no alternative is available.
Nolan’s telephone call from fellow St. John’s alumnus McDonough came two days after the freshman congressman clashed with Secretary of State John Kerry during an intelligence briefing on Syria. The flashpoint, according to Nolan, was his remark comparing a potential Syrian conflict with Vietnam, a war which Kerry both fought in and opposed.
Ellison, meanwhile, said he is meeting with anti-war groups in Minneapolis this week to discuss his openness to a punitive military strike against the Assad regime. “I tell people I never claimed to be a pure pacifist,” said Ellison, a former civil rights lawyer who ran for Congress as an opponent of the Iraq War. “I hate war. I’m against it almost every time. But when vulnerable populations are being slaughtered by their own government, the international community has a responsibility.”
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