Maryland lawmakers back U.S. strike on Syria, but many worried about what’s next

WASHINGTON - Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., speaks at a press conference in the United States Capitol on Thursday, March 16, 2017. The senator called the conference to criticize President Donald Trump's budget proposals. (Tom Hausman/Capital News Service)

By: Abby Mergenmeier, Justin Meye, Mia O’Neill and Briana Thomas

WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers on Friday supported the Trump administration’s decision to launch an airstrike on a Syrian airfield in response to that government’s recent chemical weapons attack.

But most called on President Donald Trump to consult with Congress and develop a more comprehensive strategy for confronting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus.

“I believe a limited, proportional response to Assad’s abhorrent use of chemical weapons was the right thing to do, and any future use should be met with a similar response,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in a statement. But he cautioned that “it would be a mistake to get dragged into a full scale military conflict in Syria.”

On Thursday night, the Trump administration ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles aimed at Shayrat Airfield, believed to be the origin of Tuesday’s chemical attack that killed at least 80 civilians.

No people were targeted, an important distinction Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, made in an interview with WMAR Baltimore.

“I think a decisive message has to be sent to Mr. Assad that it’s just not going to be tolerated to use chemical weapons against all kinds of international treaties and agreements,” Harris told the station. “The purpose of the mission was not to destroy Russian aircraft, it was actually not to kill anyone; it was to make sure the sarin gas attacks couldn’t be launched in that air field again.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a “horrific atrocity,” but Trump needs to follow the recent air strikes with a broader Syrian strategy.

“President Trump has not provided a strategy; rather, he has sent mixed signals to the Assad regime, to its Russian and Iranian backers, and to the world about what the path forward must be in Syria,” Hoyer said in a statement.

Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac, said that Trump’s response to the chemical attacks in Syria sends a clear message that Assad will be held accountable for his actions.

“The White House now needs to work with Congress on a strategy for Syria that ends the conflict and facilitates Assad’s removal, addresses the refugee and humanitarian crisis created by Assad and defeats ISIS,” Delaney said in a statement.

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he approved of taking a hard stance on Assad’s human rights violations. But he, too, criticized Trump for ordering the attack without consulting Congress.

“It is the President’s responsibility to inform the legislative branch and the American people about his larger policy in Syria, as well as the legal basis for this action and any additional military activities in that country,” Cardin said.

Cardin emphasized the importance of using diplomacy, rather than military intervention, to negotiate an end to the war in Syria and to remove Assad from power. He also stressed the need to hold Russia – as well as China and Iran – accountable for their roles in sustaining the Assad regime.

“Russia and China have repeatedly blocked collective action through the UN Security Council,” Cardin said. “Inside Syria, Russia and Iran are complicit in Assad’s war crimes and crimes against humanity by their direct military intervention in support of his regime.”

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, made similar points in a statement he released Friday, saying he was “extremely frustrated, but not surprised, to hear Russia is continuing to support the Assad regime despite its ongoing attacks on its own citizens.

He added: “I would hope that Russia and Iran would stand by the international community in condemning Assad’s use of chemical weapons and cooperate in finding an appropriate way forward.”

Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Upper Marlboro, emphasized that the U.S. must collaborate with other nations to put an end to the violence.

“Congress and the American people are entitled to a debate on our military objectives and strategy, and our troops deserve a commitment of resources to achieve those objectives,” Brown said in a statement. “Moving forward, the United States must work with our international partners to end this conflict and humanitarian crisis. We must not forsake the suffering of the Syrian people and should open our doors to welcome those in need.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said this week’s events demanded prompt changes to the Trump administration’s travel restrictions against Syrian refugees.

“I am calling on President Trump to immediately rescind his ban on Syrian refugees and to share his strategy regarding the civil war in Syria with Congress and with the American people,” Cummings said in a statement.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Kensington, and Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, did not respond to Capital News Service’s requests for comment.