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Closed-door Syria briefing does not appear to sway Arizona lawmakers

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WASHINGTON – Arizona Rep. Trent Franks will not say which way he plans to vote on the possibility of military action against Syria, but he was crystal-clear Monday on the administration’s handling of the situation.

The Glendale Republican, emerging from a closed-door House Armed Services Committee briefing, said he does not have any faith in President Barack Obama’s ability to lead in these matters.

“Everything he (Obama) touches in terms of foreign policy he injects with chaos and death,” Franks said. “My greatest concern about this entire effort is having him at the helm.”

Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, walking out of the same briefing, said he has not decided which way he will vote on the issue but is keeping an open mind on the matter.

“I still need answers to a lot of tough questions,” Barber said.

It came during the first of two days of appearances by administration officials on Capitol Hill – which are scheduled to be capped by personal visits Tuesday by Obama – in an effort to sway lawmakers.

Obama called for a military response to the reported Aug. 21 use of chemical weapons by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against his own people in an ongoing civil war there.

But Obama said on Aug. 31 that while he believes he has the authority to approve a limited strike, he would ask Congress for approval.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 last week to support a resolution allowing military action, with Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake both voting to support the measure. The Senate began preliminary debate on the resolution Monday.

The House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday morning with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Obama will also be on the Hill Tuesday, meeting separately with Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, and then addressing the nation in the evening.

Immediately after their closed-door briefing of the Armed Services Committee Monday, administration officials briefed all House members behind in a closed session in the Capitol.

Besides Franks, who would not say how he plans to vote, Barber and three other House members from Arizona have said they need to hear the administration’s case before deciding how to vote. The other three are Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, of Flagstaff, and Ed Pastor and Kyrsten Sinema, both of Phoenix.

But Reps. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, and Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, have all said they will vote to oppose military strikes against Syria.

Franks acknowledged Monday that his comments sounded partisan but said they the “the tragic disadvantage of being true.” He said he has not been pleased with the president’s decisions involving Iraq, Libya and Egypt.

“We got to get this right,” Franks said, without declaring which was the right way.