Sen. John McCain, one of the leading GOP proponents of military strikes in Syria, faced skepticism and some anger from constituents for a second consecutive day on Friday during a town hall focused on intervention in the war-torn country.
The Arizona Republican was urged by voters in Prescott to keep the United States out of the Syrian conflict, with many questioning the United States’ role as a global “policeman” and one accusing McCain of “treason” for backing the strike.
“I promise you that if we put an American boot on the ground, I will do whatever I can to stop it, including lying down in front of Pennsylvania Avenue. I mean that.” McCain assured the crowd early in his remarks. “I mean that.”
But his pledges of a conflict free of ground troops did not assuage the concerns of many attendees, who rose to voice opposition to any kind of strike.
“The problem right now is that 100,000 people have been massacred in Syria. Maybe in your view that’s not a problem,” he told one woman who passionately opposed U.S. intervention and interrupted McCain’s responses several times. “In my view that’s a problem.”
Another questioner accused the McCain and the United States government of lying about the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces, saying that the U.S. itself deployed the weapons. “Your actions against this country are treasonous,” he said.
A measured McCain replied that he declined to respond.
“I can’t respond to a charge like that because it would be beneath me,” he said.
There was at least one voice in full-throated favor of an American strike.
A man who identified himself as Syrian-American made a passionate case for U.S. intervention, saying that four of his relatives in the country are missing.
“Sometimes you need the war in order to accomplish the peace,” he said. “Those dictatorships, the only language that they understand is the war.”
The next questioner gave the man of Syrian descent a warm hug before pleading with McCain to send humanitarian aid without military involvement.
McCain appeared to be bracing for opposition early in the town hall, urging questioners to be respectful even if they disagree with his views.
‘You can be as impassioned as you want to be, and as insulting as you want to be if that makes you feel better,” he joked. “But please be respectful in that we don’t interrupt each other.”
McCain also faced hecklers Thursday at two town halls in his home state.
“We didn't send you to make war for us. We sent you to stop the war," one man said as the crowd cheered.
Another man held a bag of marshmallows, comparing their texture to the resolve of members of Congress.
On Thursday, McCain also suggested that any U.S. troop presence in Syria would make President Barack Obama vulnerable to impeachment.
“No one wants American boots on the ground. Nor will there be American boots on the ground because there would be an impeachment of the president if they did that,” he said.
First published September 6 2013, 1:50 PM