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(Tribune File Photo) Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah
Utahns in Congress skeptical of Syria plan

First Published Sep 04 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:33 pm

Washington • President Barack Obama persuaded House Republican leaders Tuesday to back his plan for missile strikes against the Syrian regime for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own people.

He has a long way to go to get the support of Utah’s six members of Congress. Three are leaning against it and three are undecided.

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Here is a snapshot of their thinking as Congress debates a resolution authorizing a limited military campaign, with the vote expected to take place next week:

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R: undecided

Utah’s senior senator has shied away from making public statements on whether he supports or opposes a strike on Damascus. He has talked with officials in the Obama administration and is reviewing the intelligence on the alleged sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of civilians, including children. He hasn’t made up his mind, his staff says.

He would like the president to be more forceful. Hatch has called on him to make a prime-time address explaining his Syria strategy and why the United States should interject itself in the conflict.

Sen. Mike Lee, R: no

Like many in Congress, Lee appreciates that the president asked Congress for an authorization of force. He just doesn’t see any reason to support one at this time.

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Lee and his close colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., are likely to lead the opposition to the resolution in the Senate, arguing that the fighting in Syria isn’t threatening U.S. national security.

The Utah senator is returning to Washington on Wednesday to participate in a closed-door hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he’ll have a chance to talk to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D: leaning no

"Based on what I know today, and there is a lot of classified material I still want to review, personally my mind-set is to vote no," said Matheson, the state’s only Democrat in Congress. "I have personally not been convinced of a compelling reason for us to take military action."

Matheson called the chemical weapon attack "a horrific act" but said he would prefer a global response rather than a limited one led by the United States.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R: leaning no

He hasn’t participated in any classified briefings yet, but Chaffetz said he’s skeptical of the need for U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war and what such a limited strike could actually accomplish.

"The classified intelligence is changing on a daily basis and I want to be able to see that before I cast my final vote," he said. "But I’m inclined to be a no."

He would feel more comfortable if the United States was part of a broader coalition that also included some Middle Eastern countries. He also has questions about the wider strategy in Syria, and he’s not sold that the use of a chemical weapon is a strong enough reason to get involved.

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