AUGUSTA — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said Sunday that he doesn’t know if he’ll support a military strike on Syria, but he cautioned President Barack Obama to abide by Congress’ decision on potential action.

At a Saturday press conference, Obama said he will seek the authorization of Congress to begin military attacks on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Congress will likely consider the strikes, which would be in retaliation for Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people, this month.

However, Obama also said Saturday he believes he has the power to authorize strikes with or without Congress’ approval, a sentiment that could lead to an attack regardless of Congress’ decision.

Michaud, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, said Sunday that he disagrees.

“I do not believe the president has the power to send our warriors into war, and that’s exactly what this is,” Michaud said at a Labor Day picnic in Augusta’s Capitol Park. “If the president really wants to listen to members of Congress after we have that thorough debate once we go back into session, then he should listen to members of Congress.”

The Middle Eastern country has been mired in civil war since anti-Assad demonstrations began in March 2011. In late July, the United Nations said the death toll there had reached 100,000.

The administration has built its case for a retaliatory strike against Assad’s regime largely around a reported Aug. 21 attack that killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.

On Saturday, the Portland Press Herald sought responses from Maine’s congressional delegation on the president’s response to the Syrian conflict.

All but Michaud responded, with Republican Sen. Susan Collins, independent Sen. Angus King and Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree saying they support Obama’s decision to ask Congress, but they aren’t ready to endorse a strike.

Talking with reporters Sunday, Michaud, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the same.

He is concerned with Syria’s potential use of chemical weapons, but also worried about consequences a strike could mean for U.S. allies in the region, such as Israel.

Michaud said he wouldn’t support a United State military ground campaign there. It’s likely that action on Syria would take place mostly remotely, with targeted cruise-missile strikes against key Syrian targets.

In an apperance on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. government has collected samples from Syrian first responders that have tested positive for sarin, a nerve agent, from the Aug. 21 attack.

Before endorsing any strike, Michaud said he wants clear evidence that the Syrian government — not rebel fighters — indeed was behind the use of chemical weapons.

He said that’s especially important because in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2002, Congress approved military action based on evidence that the country had weapons of mass destruction, which was later proved to be untrue.

Michaud said a Thursday decision by Great Britain’s parliament to reject military strikes in Syria could signal a hit to America’s international credibility.

“I think we can be very careful and hold the administration accountable,” he said.

Michael Shepherd — 621-5632
[email protected]

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