Tuesday, September 18, 2018
  • The Buzz
  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

On weekend Tallahassee trip, Bill Nelson backs air strikes in Syria

Florida's senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, said Saturday he agreed with President Trump's decision to order air strikes against Syria's storage and research centers, but that the White House needs to consult with Congress on future military action.

"I want us to stop President Assad from using chemical weapons," Nelson said at an airport press conference in Tallahassee. "We need to hold him accountable." He tweeted those sentiments on Friday night, which generated social media criticism.

Nelson said Trump should ask Congress for a new authorization to use force against Syria but that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., won't bring the issue up for a vote "because he's afraid of the debate."

Nelson said the effectiveness of the air strikes was blunted by the White House's decision to give Syria four days' notice before striking. He said Trump "let the cat out of the bag … but I still support the strikes."

With Nelson was Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who praised Nelson for his integrity. Booker was the draw at a Nelson fund-raiser in Tallahassee on Saturday and is seen as a possible candidate for president in 2020. It never hurts to spend time in the nation's largest swing state — even one Trump won narrowly in 2016.

Booker served up snappier sound bites Saturday. "We have a president that does foreign policy by tweet," he said. "He literally tweets out 'we're going to attack' … then he doesn't come to Congress for permission to do something."

Booker and Nelson faulted Trump for not imposing more severe sanctions against Russia, one of Syria's two strongest allies along with Iran.

Nelson reiterated that former President Barack Obama should have struck Russia with a cyber attack in 2016 after the U.S. learned of an orchestrated effort by Russia to tamper with America's presidential election.

As the press conference broke up, Booker turned to Nelson and asked with a smile: "Why don't they ask you any questions about your infrastructure work, man? You've (brought) so much money to this state."

Nelson, 75, Florida's lone statewide elected Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a closely-watched race that could help determine which party holds a Senate majority in 2019.

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