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Markey's "Present" Vote on Syria Confirms Our Worst Fears About Him

I’m not in the habit of agreeing with Scott Brown, the former Republican senator from Massachusetts, but he hit the nail on the head when he lambasted Democratic Senator Edward Markey for voting “present” Wednesday on the resolution to bomb Syria—making Markey, in his first important vote since he was sworn in two months ago, the only lawmaker on the 18-person Senate Foreign Relations Committee who couldn’t come up with a “yea” or “nay.” “Please let him know that the people of MA did not send him down there [to Washington, D.C.] to vote ‘present,’ they sent him down there to at least vote,” Brown wrote yesterday in a disgusted Facebook post. “Markey said he needs more time to analyze the information. He sits on the Committee that gets all the information. Unreal.”

But not entirely unexpected: This is precisely what Massachusetts Democrats feared when Markey emerged as the party-backed candidate to fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s seat. In a House career that spanned nearly 40 years, Markey proved himself nothing if not reliably milquetoast. When The Boston Globe endorsed him for the Senate in June, it admitted that he “could benefit from a greater willingness to break with Democratic orthodoxies,” and compared him to “a job seeker with a stellar resume who doesn’t entirely dazzle in the interview.” Dredging up Markey’s past accomplishments, the Globe couldn’t do any better than praise his penchant for “taking on such complex and farsighted tasks as charting national telecommunications policy” and his role as “the leader in extending daylight-savings time, a deceptively significant move that saved billions of dollars worth of electricity.” Deceptive significance is all well and good, but Markey doesn’t have a record of sticking his neck out.

Syria may be an unsuitable debut for Markey, but he fumbled it royally. Just last week, he was one of the lawmakers loudly calling on the president to act. “I think it is important for the United States to make this statement and to be a leader on this issue,” he told the Globe last Tuesday, adding that he would support “a surgical set of strikes” to destroy Syria’s launch sites for chemical weapons. As the Globe pointed out yesterday, Markey started to sound wishy-washy the moment Obama announced he would seek congressional approval: In a statement on Saturday, Markey said, “The aftermath of a U.S. strike on targets in Syria is difficult to predict, with negative consequences that may be beyond our capability to control.”

The Boston Herald editorial board, which I'm also not in the habit of agreeing with, may have flayed a layer of skin off the senator with its masterwork this morning, “Ed Markey goes MIA.” “In an astonishing act of political cowardice Markey, in his first truly crucial vote since his election to the Senate, punted,” the Herald wrote. “Yes, when it came time to take a stand on a matter of truly global significance this seasoned congressional hand decided — well, he’d really rather just sit.” The paper called Markey’s move “the equivalent of asking for an extension,” and told him if he has concerns about the resolution, “THEN VOTE NO!” (emphasis very much theirs, though the editors added that they “would have disagreed” with that vote).

When the Globe called Markey for an explanation yesterday, he equivocated: “My one concern is that we not get on a slippery slope—that we understand all of the steps that this action could lead to. It’s about the resolution being too broad,” he said, essentially deferring blame onto the Secretary of State, whom he replaced in the Senate. “It’s about the need for more information. It’s about my worry about a greater involvement in Syria.” Markey promised to cast an actual vote on the Senate floor next week, once he feels satisfied that he is fully “informed.” How dutiful of him.

Nora Caplan-Bricker is an assistant editor at The New Republic. Follow her on Twitter @NCaplanBricker.