Some Minnesotans in Congress support airstrikes against ISIS

Fighters with the Islamic State in Syria.
This undated image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, a Syrian opposition group, on Monday, June 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State group during a parade in Raqqa, Syria.
Associated Press

President Barack Obama addresses the nation tonight to lay out his plan for how the United States intends to address the Islamic State rebels in Iraq and Syria.

Minnesota's members of Congress will be listening carefully to the speech.

Tonight: Obama outlining mission to fight Islamic militants

Democrats and Republicans agree on very little these days. But opposing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has massacred thousands and beheaded two American journalists, is a cause members of both parties can get behind.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican who represents Minnesota's 2nd District, said he hopes the president explains the threat represented by ISIS. Kline, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said the group is more dangerous than the terrorist group al-Qaida.

"There are more of them. They are extremely well funded, extremely well equipped," Kline said. "They are battle hardened, they are intent and they are very explicit in saying they want to wash us in blood."

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Airstrikes by the U.S. military have helped Iraqi forces regain some ground against ISIS. U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat who supports the airstrikes, said in an interview last week that he would back the use of American airpower in Syria, where ISIS also controls territory.

"I think that we have to definitely consider airstrikes there," Franken said. "What we don't want to do is get mired into a land war where we're sending combat troops."

More: McFadden challenges Franken on Obama ISIS strategy

Iraq is familiar territory for both U.S. forces and members of Congress.

Many Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota's 7th District, are keeping the run up to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq in mind as they weigh the options this time around.

Peterson, one of the few members of the state's Congressional delegation who was in office when the invasion took place, is particularly wary of sending U.S. troops to fight ISIS.

"I think if it's something that's going to get us into a ground war then I think that's a deal breaker," he said in an interview last week.

One of the few voices in Congress advocating a hands-off policy is U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who represents the 8th District.

Nolan, who began his political career as an opponent of the Vietnam War, said the United States has no business stepping into what he described as a factional conflict between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam.

"The simple truth is that by our getting re-involved in this war, we make ourselves a target," Nolan said during a press conference last week, "a target in a thousand-year-old conflict."

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican who represents of Minnesota's 3rd District, supports airstrikes against ISIS, but warned that the United States should not get too cozy with anyone in the region.

"We need to make sure we understand if we're helping anyone [that] we know who we're helping and it can't in the end be turned around and used against us," Paulsen said. "That's one of the challenges with Middle East politics in general."

While six of the 10 members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation reached by MPR News either oppose or refused to say whether they support deploying U.S. troops to fight ISIS, Kline accused the Obama administration of hiding behind semantics given the widespread presence of American advisers in Iraq.

"We have over a thousand U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq today," Kline said. "So is that an American deployment? Is that boots on the ground? The president is saying, no he doesn't want to put boots on the ground. Then what are those thousand people?"

Members of the delegation also are worried about the potential threat ISIS could pose closer to home.

ISIS has drawn recruits from around the world, including at least two from Minnesota.

Franken has pushed the Justice Department to do more to look into the group's recruitment in the United States. He said the nation's borders should be closed to those who fight for ISIS.

"If they come in and there's evidence they've given material support for terrorism, we should arrest them and definitely track these people or not let them into the country," Franken said.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican who represents the 6th District, has gone even further and introduced legislation that she said would protect the United States from ISIS recruits by cancelling their passports.

"If you have joined the Islamic State and if you have taken up arms and you are an American citizen, then you will be prevented from returning to the United States," Bachmann said.

But given the short, pre-election work calendar of Congress, her bill is unlikely to get a vote before lawmakers move to full-time campaigning.

MPR News reporters Tom Scheck, Dan Kraker and Mark Zdechlik contributed to this report.