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SIMMONS: Blacks bring many voices to Congress’ vote on Syria

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Next week, the District will again host the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend, which draws thousands of people from around the globe to network, lobby political Washington, raise money for college scholarships and, without a doubt, party.

Before they do, the memes will have a more pressing concern: They have to do their job and weigh in on President Obama's proposal to militarily intervene in Syria.

Where do Black Caucus members stand on Syria?

Fortunately, the all-black, all-Democratic caucus isn't speaking with one voice.

The District's lone member of Congress, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, has said that Democrats, a minority in the House of Representatives, "just don't want to see [Mr. Obama] shamed and humiliated on the national stage."

Here again, she doesn't speak for all 41 of her colleagues.

In fact, if I were a wagering woman, I'd bet that when it comes to Syria, Mrs. Norton certainly wasn't speaking for Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York.

Sometimes blustery but usually deliberative in thought, Mr. Rangel opposes Mr. Obama's calls for military action in Syria — however targeted and limited a strike might be.

"We applaud President Barack Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for U.S. involvement in Syria," the New York congressman said in a Thursday piece penned for thedailybeast.com. "However, Syria is not an American problem; it is an international problem requiring an international solution. Without question, the Arab League, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations General Assembly and U.N. Security Council should all be at the table talking about what to do with this regional conflict that is being conducted as a proxy war."

(The proxy war was explained in a report in The Washington Times that same day, by the way.)

It's good to know Mr. Rangel spelled out his reasons for his opposition to going to war on Syria, especially since Rep. Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, has urged her brothers and sisters to zip their lips.

The positions of other caucus members run the gamut — from Mrs. Norton, a supporter, to Rep. Corinne Brown of Florida, who has indicated she's leaning toward a "yea" House vote to fence-sitters like Reps. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Hakeem S. Jeffries of New York to expected "no" votes from Rep. Barbara Lee of California and Mr. Rangel, a Korean War veteran.

There is the possibility that the mouths of the entire Black Caucus will remain zipped until a House vote is taken. After all, politicians have human frailties, too, and can say one thing but do another.

For certain, they will be enraptured Monday by National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice, who said all the wrong things about the deadly attacks on our diplomatic staff in Benghazi, Libya, and drew the short straw after Secretary of State John F. Kerry et al. failed to offer convincing congressional testimony last week. There's also the presidential address to the nation Tuesday night.

If the Black Caucus doesn't want to be dumped into the "do-nothing" Congress bucket, it would be wise to let each member fall in line not with Ms. Fudge or the president, but with the constituents who elected them.

Surely, by the time the legislative weekend rolls around, black lawmakers don't want to be judged as a group of blacks dancing, drinking and yelling, "Party over here."

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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