Congress remains engaged today in a great debate over whether to grant President Obama authority to launch a military strike against Syria as punishment for its government’s apparent use of chemical weapons against civilians.
And this debate is an important one. It involves the scope of presidential powers, the wisdom of casting the United States in the role of “world policeman,” and the risk of the conflict expanding beyond Syria and engulfing the entire Middle East.
Our allies have largely abandoned us. We are on our own, and it is a time for reasoned argument and impassioned debate — a time for legislators to consider the will of their constituents and their own consciences, and to speak their minds freely and openly. Now especially, it is a time our representatives must act in what they believe is the best interest of the country.
But when the first call came to stand up and be counted, our newly minted Sen. Ed Markey huddled in the corner and mumbled “present.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 last week to authorize President Obama to use military force against Syria, in the words of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., “to change the military equation on the battlefield.” The resolution would limit military action to 60 to 90 days and confine it within the borders of Syria. No U.S. ground forces would be permitted in the country. The resolution now moves to consideration by the full Senate.
The vote was bipartisan. McCain and fellow Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona voted with seven Democrats — including Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire — in favor of the resolution. Two Democrats and five Republicans were opposed.
Only Markey, elected in June to finish out the term of former Sen. John Kerry, failed to express his opinion on the matter.
It was an appalling display of political cowardice and an abject failure to represent the interests of the people of Massachusetts.
Markey not only let down Bay State citizens, the longtime congressman from Malden also turned himself and the state into a national political laughingstock.
“So Ed Markey spent 37 years waiting to get to the Senate to confront a major issue and vote ... present,” tweeted Steve Kornacki, a political writer for Salon.
“Markey votes present,” tweeted Gabriel Gomez, the Republican businessman Markey defeated in the special election. “... embarrassing, at least have the fortitude and courage to vote yes or no. Not a time to dither.”
Markey tried to explain himself in a statement and in later comments. He said he was concerned about some details of the resolution and worried that use of force could entangle U.S. troops in the Syrian civil war.
Fine. If that’s the case, he should have stood up against the president and voted “no” on the resolution. Instead, Markey’s spineless “present” suggests he didn’t even understand the committee was not voting to let the missiles fly, but merely to send the matter on to the full Senate for debate.
Pathetic, embarrassing, use any word you wish – it’s all of those. But Markey’s hedging should not come as any surprise.
As we here at the Times often noted during the special-election run, Markey has been downright two-faced regarding the fishing industry — saying he supports Gloucester’s and Massachusetts fishermen, and backing federal aid for the industry, all the while standing firm against his delegation colleagues and the kind of Magnuson Stevens Act reforms the industry truly needs, while also backing an ocean zoning plan that would shut down even more fishing grounds and likely deal the industry, especially in Gloucester, its definitive death blow.
Massachusetts voters deserve better than this. They deserve representatives in the House and Senate, who can take a stand, and who are unafraid to speak their minds.
Markey’s “presence” on this vote was an insult to us all. Maybe next year, when his term already expires, we’ll get it right.