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September 13, 2013

Did Sanders Just Come Out Against Syria Strikes?

Sanders.WesternCorridorYes, I know. You're all tired of reading about the Vermont congressional delegation's tortured positions on potential Syrian air strikes, which — at least for now — aren't gonna happen.

Believe me. I'm tired of writing about them.

Buuuuuuuut... Sen. Bernie Sanders' regular "Bernie Buzz" e-newsletter crossed the transom earlier today and something about it struck me as a little odd. Here's the lede:

In the midst of widespread public opposition to military strikes against Syria, which Bernie shares, President Obama seized the opportunity to explore a proposal for international monitors to take over Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. Bernie welcomed the president’s new approach.

Sanders "shares" "widespread public opposition" to the strikes?

From what I recollect, Sanders never actually came out in opposition to Obama's proposed air strikes. Sure, he talked Ed Schultz's ear off on a near-daily basis on MSNBC about his reservations. He said time and again that he was hesitant to get "involved in a bloody and complicated civil war in Syria." 

But every time I asked him or his staff whether he'd decided to vote against the strikes, they brushed off the question.

Outside a press conference last Thursday at Burlington's Union Station, I said to Sanders, given his public statements, "It sounds to me like you're a 'no' — or at least leaning heavily in that direction?" 

As he walked down Lake Street flanked by two staffers, Sanders responded, "Well, it sounds to me that I have to see the resolution when I vote on it before I can make a determination as to how I'm going to vote."

Okay. Fair enough! 

A few days later, when his office sent out a Sunday news release with the subject line, "Sen. Sanders Airs Concerns on Syria," I asked the question again — this time by email.

"Sen. Sanders sure sounds like a 'no,' but he doesn't seem willing to explicitly say it," I wrote. "Is he a no? If not, why isn't he willing to just say it?"

His occasionally gruff but generally affable — and always clever — spokesman, Michael Briggs, countered: "I have thought about it but can't come up with anything that would satisfy you."

Again, fair enough!

Then that whole John Kerry/Vladimir Putin thing happened this week and — voila! — Obama called off the vote. And every member of Congress yet to take a side — including Vermont's own Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) — breathed a huge sigh of relief. For the moment, at least, they wouldn't have to choose between their president and their constituents.

Then today, all of a sudden, Sanders was sharing "widespread public opposition to military strikes against Syria."

What gives? Again, I went to Briggs — noting that I hadn't ever seen Sanders "officially come out against the strikes."

"'Officially,' like a vote? No," Briggs responded. "But the questions he raised throughout the week were rightly read by you and most others as doubting the wisdom of military intervention in a bloody and complicated civil war."

"I guess it's the word 'opposition' with which I'm struggling," I replied. "Did he ever announce his opposition to the proposal?"

"I suppose you could say that loyal Bernie Buzz readers got the news," Briggs wrote.


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