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Toomey: Obama has 'woefully fallen short'

| Friday, July 19, 2013, 11:54 p.m.
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review
Senator Pat Toomey talks with Trib editors and reporters Friday morning, July 19, 2013.
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review
Senator Pat Toomey talks with Trib editors and reporters Friday morning, July 19, 2013.
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review
Senator Pat Toomey talks with Trib editors and reporters Friday morning, July 19, 2013.

As Syria's bloody rebellion threatens to devolve into sectarian warfare, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said America's options in the spreading crisis are dwindling because President Obama did not act quickly enough.

Toomey, the freshman Republican from Lehigh County, said the country faces diminished influence abroad and mounting financial problems at home because Obama did not rally support behind decisive action. But the president's supporters noted that Toomey helped block some of the plans he blames Obama for failing to enact.

“The most important thing about being president is providing the leadership the country needs, and on that, I think he has woefully fallen short,” Toomey told Tribune-Review editors and reporters on Friday.

The consequences, he said, are becoming apparent in Syria, where mortar shells struck near a major Shiite shrine on Friday as elements backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia vied for dominance of the shattered country. Though the White House has pledged increased support for rebels, increasing radicalization of some fighters means military aid could end up in terrorist hands.

“We've gotten ourselves in a situation now where we have certainly no great choices and maybe no good choices,” Toomey said.

U.S. intelligence services determined that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, crossing what Obama had declared a “red line.”

“The president of the United States said it is the policy of this country that the Syrian dictator can't use chemical weapons; if he does, everything changes. And then (Assad) did, and nothing changed,” Toomey said.

“So what do the Iranians infer from that about their nuclear program? What do the North Koreans infer from that?” Toomey asked.

The United States “ramp(ed) up the assistance we provide to the Syrian military council,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday.

“We are providing by far the most significant amount of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and coordinating with our allies and partners and the opposition to help buttress and strengthen the opposition as they endure a withering assault by Bashar al-Assad and his forces, aided by Hezbollah and Iran,” Carney said.

Had Obama acted earlier to support rebel groups friendly to the United States, those groups could be in a better position today, Toomey said.

He charged Obama with the same failure of leadership on deficit reduction, which he said is the biggest domestic challenge before Congress and the president.

“In the absence of presidential leadership, it is very hard to do big things,” Toomey said.

Democrats noted that Toomey joined lawmakers who blocked the bipartisan Gang of Six plan, which three Republicans and three Democrats estimated would cut the deficit by $3.7 trillion. Democrats blame GOP obstruction for Washington's budget impasses.

“The president has gone out on a limb by actually making a very specific proposal ... including proposals in the area of entitlement reform and savings that are widely viewed as tough decisions by a Democrat,” Carney said Thursday.

Toomey holds little hope of reviving one policy on which he and Obama agree: the need to conduct background checks on people who buy guns at gun shows or on the Internet. A bill written by Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that would have expanded background checks fell to a Republican filibuster in April. Toomey's involvement drew the ire of many gun groups.

“I'm still disappointed I wasn't able to persuade my Republican colleagues,” Toomey said. He noted that Republicans supported expanding background checks in the 1990s, and the issue remains widely popular in opinion polls.

“It became controversial, I think, in part because we're so polarized and there's such a distrust of this administration,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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