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Phila. region's House members skeptical of Obama's Syria push

President Obama's call for military strikes in Syria has garnered little support from Philadelphia-area House members, underscoring how much work he has to do to win the chamber's backing.

President Obama's call for military strikes in Syria has garnered little support from Philadelphia-area House members, underscoring how much work he has to do to win the chamber's backing.

Wary of another Middle East entanglement, weary from recent wars, and heeding constituents who heavily oppose U.S. intervention, Republicans and Democrats alike are skeptical of Obama's plans.

Of 12 Philadelphia-area House members contacted Wednesday by The Inquirer, none voiced support for the president's proposal.

Several said they were leaning against authorizing the use of force, and one - Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) - said he would vote against it.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) said he was "very angry" that Obama had not developed a coherent policy that could have influenced Syria's civil war years ago.

"He's not made a convincing argument to our allies, he's not made a convincing argument to the American people, and he's not made a convincing argument to me," said LoBiondo, a member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees.

In Delaware County, Rep. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.) questioned how the administration can guarantee that its planned missile strikes will end Syria's chemical weapons program and what unintended consequences may result in the region, particularly for Israel.

"Sending our men and women into combat is the most grave decision a public official can make, and so far I'm not satisfied that this administration has sufficiently answered these questions," Meehan said in a statement.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.) said he was leaning toward "no" on a vote that could come next week.

"Unfortunately, today there are no good policy outcomes for the United States in Syria," Dent said in a statement. "A war-weary American public will not support a half-measured, poorly thought-out military strike."

Smith, one of the top members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sharply questioned Secretary of State John Kerry at a Wednesday hearing, recalling U.S. bombings in Serbia, which he said were also supposed to be limited but led to 78 days of strikes.

"I am going to vote no," he said in an interview after the hearing. "Diplomacy has not been pushed in a way that would yield results, and I'm not sure what unexpected calamities await if we just fire in some Tomahawk missiles."

Smith urged creation of a Syrian war-crimes tribunal.

Even among Democrats who normally support Obama, the president has little firm backing.

"I enter this process very skeptical that we should involve our troops in the middle of anyone's civil war," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.).

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) was among many who said they were seeking more information. "The stakes are too high to rush to a conclusion," he said in a release.

Similarly, Reps. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Jon Runyan (R., N.J.), and Frank Pallone (D., N.J.) withheld judgment. A spokesman for Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) did not respond to requests for comment.

The skepticism among House lawmakers comes in contrast to the Senate, where the Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution to allow the limited use of force.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), that committee's chairman, voted in favor of the resolution. He and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) have been vocal supporters of military strikes, pointing to the children killed in an alleged chemical attack and saying the United States has to send a message to its adversaries that it will back warnings with action.

The public appears unconvinced.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday found that 59 percent of Americans opposed missile strikes in Syria.

LoBiondo said he had received hundreds of calls on the issue. "You can count on one hand" the number who support U.S. intervention, he said. Dent's office said the response in his Lehigh Valley district has been "strong opposition."

Many lawmakers worried about the lack of international support - "When have the Brits not been with us before?" LoBiondo asked - and the unpredictable results of any armed conflict.

They questioned whether missile strikes would have any significant impact on the Syrian regime or the civil war there.

Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from York County and a veteran who spent a year deployed in Iraq, now sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He questioned whether the United States has legal authority to launch a unilateral attack and raised concerns about "mission creep" once the United States becomes involved.

"I'm not sure what the commander's intent is here," he said.

Some lawmakers have urged Obama to deliver a more forceful explanation, either in an Oval Office address or a speech to a joint session of Congress.

Locally, at least, he has to change some minds if he hopes to win House support.