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The support shown by Colorado lawmakers for President Donald Trump’s strike Thursday on a Syrian air base got us wondering where they stood in 2013 when President Barack Obama almost asked Congress for an authorization of force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Obama, when it looked unlikely that he would have the votes, opted instead to enter an agreement with Syria and Russia to dispose of Assad’s remaining chemical weapons.
WHAT WE FOUND
Let’s take each congressional member one by one.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) VERDICT: CHANGED
Gardner was a representative at the time Obama considered military involvement in Syria. Here’s what he said.
“I am glad that President Obama has decided to seek Congressional approval before any military action is taken in Syria,” Gardner wrote on his Facebook page in September 2013. “Allegations of chemical weapons use are extremely troubling, but the Constitution rightfully requires that any action taken by the U.S. military receive Congressional approval.”
And a few days after that he posted he was “deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in Syria. There must be a compelling and vital national interest to approve any action, a heavy burden that has not yet been met.”
That’s different from what Gardner said Friday.
“The use of chemical weapons is illegal under international law and the administration is well justified taking this long-overdue action tonight against a designated state sponsor of terrorism … ,” he said in a statement Friday. “I hope our partners in freedom and dignity will see this U.S. leadership as the first act of a global partnership to end this chapter of depravity.”
We asked Gardner what’s different today other than the party affiliation of the person occupying the oval office.
“I think what Obama was talking about was extended strikes, extended presence in Syria. What we heard from the administration last night was a proportionate response … ” Gardner said. “There’s a clear difference between the activities taking place in 2013, and the one proportional strike last night.”
He also said the situation in Syria has changed, noting that Assad clearly has chemical weapons and has disregarded the agreement brokered in 2013.
Gardner expects Trump will come to Congress if the president wants to increase our involvement in Syria.
“In fact, that’s one of the things I think we learned in the briefing [Friday],” Gardner said. “There will be further communications with the White House to Congress shortly.”
We also asked Gardner whether he would have supported a proportional response by Obama in 2013 following that chemical weapons attack.
Gardner said he couldn’t answer the question without knowing what Obama’s plan would have been, and that is something we can’t know.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) VERDICT: NO CHANGE
When Obama was weighing a response to the chemical weapons attack in 2013, Bennet told The Denver Post he favored the idea.
He told the Post that Assad’s gassing of his own people couldn’t “go unanswered,” but he worried about the U.S. getting bogged down in another war in the Middle East.
That’s almost exactly where he stands today.
"The chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed innocent civilians, including children, required a response … ,” Bennet said in a statement Friday. “Moving forward, any military action must be conducted in consultation with Congress and considered only as part of an articulated strategy to address the ongoing crisis."
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) VERDICT: CHANGED
Lamborn opposed Obama’s plan for Syria, calling the president’s foreign policy “rudderless.”
“Nothing I heard from President Obama tonight convinced me that a military strike against Syria is in America's best interest,” Lamborn said in a statement in September 2013. “After hearing tonight's speech and attending both classified and unclassified briefings, I intend to vote against a resolution to authorize military action against Syria.”
But he had nothing but praise for Trump’s air strike.
"Unlike the previous administration which walked away from similar outrages, President Trump is willing to send a clear signal of U.S. opposition to crimes against humanity,” Lamborn said. “We hope and pray that this display of strength will prevent chemical attacks against innocent civilians in the future."
Sen. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) VERDICT: NO CHANGE
When Obama first began weighing a response to the chemical attack in 2013, Tipton was one of more than 100 federal lawmakers who signed a letter asking the president to seek Congressional approval before using military force.
And that’s something he thinks the current president should do as well.
“The use of chemical weapons by a government on its people is horrific. I believe that the recent actions of the al-Assad regime called for a response from the United States,” Tipton said in a statement. “However, I remain firm in my position that, given the stakes, any further military action in Syria deserves consideration by Congress first.”
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver) VERDICT: NO CHANGE
DeGette also urged Obama to seek Congressional support for any attack in Syria.
“While there is no question that reported use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians by the Syrian government is abhorrent, the decision to use military force demands a vigorous debate in Congress and with the American people,” DeGette said in a statement.
What she said Friday echoed her comments above from 2013.
“Chemical weapons use on anyone, but most especially civilians, is horrific and calls for a response … ,” DeGette said. “It’s the President’s duty to protect national security, but he must consult with Congress and seek an Authorization for Use of Military Force if he intends to take further military action involving Syria.”
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) VERDICT: NO CHANGE
Coffman signed the same letter that Tipton did in 2013, asking Obama to come to Congress first.
And during the 2016 election, he told 9NEWS Assad should retain control of at least part of the country.
"Tonight's actions in Syria come after Assad's horrific actions against his own people,” Coffman said in a statement Friday. “America must show leadership and I'm thankful for what appears to be an effective response by our military."
Coffman still stands by his two-state solution. He told 9NEWS that the time for removing Assad has passed.
And the Arvada Republican stands behind the 2013 letter’s position.
He characterized Thursday’s air strike as symbolic and necessary given Assad’s clear violation of the 2013 agreement to destroy his chemical weapons.
But any further intervention would require an act of Congress. That’s why he and some of the other members who signed the 2013 letter are working on a new one.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) VERDICT: POSSIBLE CHANGE
Polis split with President Obama in 2013, saying he would oppose military action in Syria.
He said at the time that intervention didn’t make America safer, civilian deaths could further deteriorate relations in the Middle East and a lack of international support would undermine the mission’s legitimacy.
On Friday, his office told 9NEWS that Polis “remains skeptical” but plans to give Trump the same opportunity he gave Obama to make a case for military action.
“I also believe the U.S. cannot disregard the continued terror in Syria, and that is why I have called for an increase in the admission of Syrian refugees, and why the President must reconsider his policies that seek to shut down all migration from Syria,” Polis said in a statement. “Earlier today, I signed on to a resolution to encourage the use of all diplomatic and economic means to compel the Assad regime to transfer power peacefully.”
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada) VERDICT: UNKNOWN
Perlmutter agreed with Obama’s decision to seek Congressional support, but we couldn’t find anything that indicated how he would have voted.
"It's important for Congress to assess this information and discuss what actions are appropriate to deter this kind of massacre in the future,” Perlmutter said in 2013. “As the President suggested, any action must be targeted and limited in scope."
We reached out to Perlmutter to see where he stands today, but we didn’t hear back.
Rep. Ken Buck (R- Greeley) VERDICT: NOT APPLICABLE
Buck was not in Congress when Obama discussed using military force in Syria.