U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, did not shy away from addressing constituents' questions head-on as he held a town hall meeting at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's Second Street Live performance venue in downtown Fort Smith on Thursday night(Sept. 5).
Likely the most pressing issue to receive attention was Congress' upcoming debate and vote on whether to authorize President Barack Obama to use military force to strike Syria in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians during the country's ongoing civil war.
Womack said he was leaning against voting to authorizing the President to use force, explaining that his decision could change should a classified briefing he will receive Monday (Sept. 9) contain information that absolutely shows a different situation that he believes requires American involvement.
"I say I lean no because to be fair to the process, I need to see the brief. I need to go to the classified briefing on Monday and then sometime either Monday night or Tuesday morning, I'll issue my final statement. I can't imagine what I'm going to see in that brief that's going to cause me to go from lean no to yes. But I can tell you this, probably no vote I will make in Congress is more important than when I vote to commit the resources and the lives of the sons and daughters of America into a confrontation."
Womack did say that should Syria pose a threat to American interests in the Middle East, such as launching an attack on Israel, his view on military intervention in Syria would be different. The action Womack would want to take would not be a simple bombing of a few key military targets and letting al-Assad go back to business as usual.
"As a taxpayer, as a citizen, as a veteran, I am tired of us pussyfooting militarily. If there comes a point in time where the United States of America needs to engage an adversary over some sort of a provocation, I'm going to vote to bring the full weight of the United States' military forces, everything that we have, on that enemy so as to send a message that you're picking on the wrong people and when you do, there's going to swift and punitive consequences as a result of it and it is not going to be your best day."
Before Womack was able to venture into discussion of the current situation in Syria and a possible American intervention, he was greeted by protesters from the Benton County Tea Party, who ventured to Fort Smith and stood in front of the Second Street Live facility in order to protest Womack's decision to not attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act in the upcoming continuing resolution that would continue funding government operations in the absence of a formal appropriations bill.
"When Harry Reid and President Obama stand up and say, 'Why are you shutting down the government?' the Republicans need to stand up and be strong and say, 'You are the ones shutting down the government. We have funded it. We just don't want to fund this mess that's going to wreck our country,'" said Rebecca Hedges, who was the leader of the more than 10 Tea Partiers who made the trip to Fort Smith. "I've loved Steve for years, but I'm sad about his not showing backbone and not being able to stand up to President Obama and to stand up to John Boehner and Eric Cantor."
Womack said Hedges view of his actions were misinterpreted, adding that he has voted 40 times to repeal ACA and is currently co-sponsoring legislation that would defund the law, which was upheld by the Supreme Court as Constitutional in June 2012.
"While I support every effort that's made to defund, replace … to stop this train wreck called Obamacare, I think our party has to be very wise to the potential political outcomes in 2014 if we force the government to shut down."
Next year's election is important, Womack said, because it is a very real opportunity for Republicans to take back control of the Senate and increase its majority in the Senate. Should the Republicans force a shutdown, he said it runs the risk of Republicans not going into the 2014 election with strength but instead could result in a not only a hold on the Senate by Democrats, but possible gains by Democrats in the House, has happened during the 2012 election, when Republicans like U.S. Rep. Allan West, R-Florida, lost their re-election campaigns only two years after being sent to the House.
"(In order to accomplish our legislative goals), we really need that body that's at the other end of the capital from our end - the U.S. Senate. And the difference in power right now is six votes, six seats. And there will be a half a dozen seats that will be up for election that are held by the other party that we feel very confident that we can compete in. But we have no margin for error. We have to have them all. As you know, Arkansans are going to get an opportunity to vote on this one. They didn't in '12. But we do in '14 and it's one of the six I'm talking about."
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
About 250 people were in attendance at tonight's meeting. The meeting is one in a series of town halls that took place in Bentonville, Flippin and Russellville during the recent recess.