Democratic Pryor Opposes a Syria Strike ‘At This Time’

Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas said he opposes U.S. military action against Syria “at this time,” an announcement underscoring President Barack Obama’s challenge in winning Congress’s support for an attack.

The Obama administration hasn’t proven “a compelling national security interest” or provided a clearly defined mission for an assault, Pryor said today in a statement. “Based on the information presented to me and the evidence I have gathered, I do not believe these criteria have been met, and I cannot support military action against Syria at this time.”

Obama is seeking congressional authorization for limited military strikes after determining that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,400 people in an Aug. 21 attack near Damascus. A divided Senate, where Democrats have a majority, is set to vote on a use-of-force resolution next week, with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to follow.

Obama needs 60 votes in the 100-member Senate for the resolution to overcome procedural efforts to stymie it. The measure overcame its first hurdle when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved it Sept. 4 by a 10-7 vote.

House Hurdle

The resolution appears to face an especially hard sell in the House, where an unusual coalition of antiwar Democrats and Republicans aligned with the anti-tax Tea Party are lining up against it. Lawmakers return to Washington to reconvene on Sept. 9 after a five-week recess

The decision by Pryor, up for re-election in 2014 in a state Obama lost in last year’s presidential race by about 24 percentage points, sets up a sharp contrast with his likely Republican opponent, Representative Tom Cotton.

A veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan who won his House seat in 2012, Cotton is usually a vocal critic of the president. On Syria, he has sided with the Obama.

“I’m also deeply worried that our inaction is destabilizing the Middle East,” he said during a Sept. 4 House committee hearing on the resolution. “That’s why -- miracle of miracles -- I am in support of the president’s call for action in Syria.”

Pryor, seeking a third term, faced a choice on the Syria issue of joining Cotton in backing Obama or siding with the public, which polls show largely opposes U.S. military intervention in Syria, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“Since he’s in a very difficult, tight race, it’s perfectly understandable why he went with the public,” Sabato said in a phone interview.

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