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WTOP Town Hall: Talk to your members of Congress

During a special Town Hall on Friday morning, Virginia representatives from both sides of the party line offered their opinions on what role America should play in the escalating Syrian crisis and took questions from callers.

  • Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. (Courtesy YouTube/Getty/Getty)

    If America doesn't get involved militarily in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad's regime falls, what will happen to the country's massive stockpile of chemical weapons -- could they fall into even more dangerous hands?

    That's one of the questions Virginia politicians from both sides of the party line debated in a special Town Hall WTOP hosted on Friday about America's role in the escalating Syrian crisis and the possible ramifications of diplomacy, military action or maintaining the status quo.

    Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Jim Moran, both Democrats, and Republican representatives Frank Wolf and Rob Wittman offered differing opinions, but all agreed on one thing: The situation is tenuous and the stakes are high.


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  • Listen to the full show here

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  • Welcome to WTOP's special Town Hall. The congressmen are here and we're about to get started. Submit your questions and comments and we'll ask them.
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  • On Syria:

    Moran: The 3 Ts make it problematic. 1) Trust. We have no reason to trust Assad or Russia for that matter. 2) Time.  3) We don't want U.S. troops on the ground in Syria

    Wittman: I am skeptical about this too. We're seeing concerning signs. There is some intelligence that indicates there may be some moving around of chemical weapons. The trustworthiness of both Russia and Syria are in question.

    Warner: I would agree with all my colleagues said. It's trust. It's time. Particularly the time issue. 
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  • Time Frame on Syria situation:

    Wolf: The concern I have is the administration doesn't have a first class team involved. We've asked them to put together a team made up of prominent people. We've made suggestions on who to bring in for this team. We also gave them a number of military people to be an advisory team. I don't think they have the team to deal with this.

    Moran: We have a direct stake in the normalization of chemical weapons being used in war fighting. The president does not want us to determine the outcome of the Syrian war by using our force. Frankly, I support what he wanted to do. I just wish he had gone ahead and done it. Perhaps when he said we're drawing a red line with the use of chemical weapons. There already was a red line. When he used them, hit him. And then gone on television and say this is what I just did, this is why I did it, and his critics would have had to line up with Syria and Russia and I don't think they would have done it. We;re pursuing the only course available at this point.

    Wittman: Time is such and issue. I want to make sure these chemical weapons are brought under control.

    Warner: I do think Frank Wolf's idea is an interesting one. I might expand it to include Egypt and take a look at the whole region. I thought Jim's comment was also, a lot of our colleagues feel in the immediacy of this horrible act, perhaps an action with Britain at that point may have worked. As far as time, I do think there are ramifications of acting. We all know the negative implications of acting. But what about the negative implications of not acting. I'm very concerned about Jordan. How do we make sure we keep a stable Jordan that doesn't disintegrate. We're trying to get those states that aren't involved in the Syrian civil war, such as turkey, to back a more moderate rebel force.
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  • When are Congress and the White House going to starting showing some level of appreciation for Federal Employees who have been denigrated in the media, congressional hearings and speeches by the President? Do you have any idea of how low morale and working conditions are at present?
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  • Vicki from Glen Burnie (Caller): I would like to know why the U.S. is not paying attention to the fact that there are videos of rebels using chemical weapons.

    Wolf: There are videos that I've seen showing that some of the al Qaida related groups are doing beheading and very very dangerous thing. I think that's the real fear that once the Assad administration collapses, who is going to take his place?

    Moran: The Assad regime has over 1.000 metric tons of chemical weapons including Sarin. The rebels don't. And we know that the attack that killed more than 1,000 people was launched from a government control area into a rebel area. We also know the government distributed gas masks before the attack and we know the government bombarded the area they gassed after they gassed it. All the rebels are not good guys, there are some very bad guys among the rebels which is why we don't want to arm them.

    Wittman: The use across the board is absolutely unacceptable and I want to make sure this is addressed, and try to get this weapons under control. We look at it across the board. The key is that we look at where they are. There is some evidence that there are chemical weapons in other areas.

    Warner: I'm not familiar with the videos the caller is asking about. But I know there is evidence that chemical weapons were used. I have not seen any videos showing rebels using chemical weapons.
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  • Wolf: No on military action

    Moran: I would vote aye on a kind of action. But I question if he'll do that.

    Wittman: I would vote no against military action in Syria.

    Warner: If we go through this process, my hope would be you would not have reluctance from Russia and China.
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  • Sen. Mark Warner is no longer on the line.
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  • Wolf: I've always done what I think is best for the country. The top notch people that I've spoken to have all told me this is a very serious situation. I ask them 'what are your worst fears?' What are the impacts on Isreal? What are the impacts on Jordan? We want to be very careful before we decide to act.

    Moran: I have to vote consistently, not only with my prior assessment of the conflicts going on in the Middle East, but looking down the road, what's going to be the ramifications? The Congress is standing tall in terms of where its constituency is. But the country is very fatigued: No more wars. Especially in the Middle East is what they're telling us. I can't argue strongly against the views of many of my colleagues because I understand where they're coming from. But I think we're going to regret if we don't act.

    Wittman: It is a challenging decision making process. In my district there are a lot of people who have a tremendous amount of expertise on the topic. If these diplomatic efforts don't work out, where do we go? We have to keep the focus here because if things don't work out with the Russians and the Syrians then we're right back where we started.
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  • Andy (Caller): I wanted to know if there is an international court of law that is going to hold Assad accountable and why or why not?

    Wolf: Yes, we want to bring a Syrian criminal court the same way we did for Milosevic. Congressmean Chris Smith from New Jersey wrote an op ed on that in today's Post.

    Moran: Absolutely.

    Wittman: It is a violation of international law and we need to pursue that track parallel with the diplomatic efforts.
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  • Patti (Caller) : Why do we continue to think we need to be the world's policeman?

    Wolf: Well, we are the world's leader. This is a very long difficult process and America can not just ignore. I don't think we can pick and choose. I don't think we can just retreat. This is a long war. One that we will win. But it's a long difficult process

    Moran: I think the president has .... but I don't think America was listening. He's actually been quite articulate and determined to do the right thing. But I would say the U./S has greater capability militarily than all the other nations in the world combined. And if you have the ability to stop chemical weapons, then you have the responsibilty to stop it. It's something Americans have to consider.

    Wittman: We are in a position of being a super power. The key is how do we make decisions in that context. One of my concern is that with the current state of readiness which continues to degrade with sequester, we have to address what the proper role is for the United States. Is there a clear strategic way? The question boils down to what we can do, what we should do, and how.

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  • Caller: I know the Syrian people, particularly the Christians, depend on Assad to protect them from al Qaida. Why are we supplying bombs and chemical weapons to al Qaida groups around the world?

    Wolf: I've had a number of Syrian Christians tell me the same thing. While they don't like Assad, they've been protected. I think the key is to get Assad to Geneva, put in an interim person. The Christian community lives in fear. The Jewish population of the Middle East has been decimated. Christians have been marginalized, too. This week we will have a bill on the floor to set up an envoy to help deal with Christians in the Middle East.
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  • Caller: I heard Obama talking about the children who have been affected by chemical weapons. But what about the diplomatic people working there who are going to be the targets?

    Wolf: We do have an obligation to protect every American in that region that we've asked to be there and all Americans there.

    Moran:  That's a sufficient response.
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  • Caller: If you degrade Syria, is this going to increase or decrease their control over chemical weapons?

    Wolf:  That's the concern -- that if you destabilize and Assad falls, the weapons there, who is going to get them. Al Quaida is there. Yes, that's a concern.

    Moran:  That's our objective. That's what their discussing in Geneva right now. These weapons are more lethal more dangerous than the ones used in the past. The fact that we didn't respopnd in the past dowesn't mean its not appropriate to respond now. And the reality is that when we don't respond pople like Assad become even more blatant. The al Qaida extremist force is growing.

    Wittman: I think that's a very appropriate question. How do we make sure that any action the U.S. takes, how enduring is the mission? If those chemical weapons fall into the hands of others, you haven't solved the problem, you've only made it worse and the U.S. will have to deal with them again.

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  • Caller: Why don't we go to the UN?

    Wolf: The problem is that Russia has stopped us at every turn and China has supported Russia. The UN security council is made up of nations that don't agree with us.

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  • Thanks for joining us everyone!
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  • If we are drawing the line with attacks on innocent children, genocide and civil war have been going on for many many years in Darfur and other areas of Africa. The acts being committed against women and children are absolutely atrocious. FAR worse than anything I've seen coming out of Syria to date. We're talking turning children into murderers, brutal rape, genital mutilation, torture, slaughter, and so on. Yet, we aren't pointing our missiles in that direction. Why?

    I wish the government would be honest about why they can't keep their hands out of the middle east. There are probably multiple reasons why there is interest there, but I hate when the powers that be are giving speeches basically saying that we can't sit idly by and watch the slaughter of innocent people. There are many other countries where atrocities are carried out against women and children every day with very little to no intervention on our part.
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