Skip to main content

Congress, let this be a vote of conscience

By Stephanie Cutter
September 9, 2013 -- Updated 1258 GMT (2058 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Stephanie Cutter: At times, members of Congress take votes based on conscience
  • Syria issue requires members to consider what is right, not what is expedient, she says
  • Cutter: This is a time for politics to be put aside and for thoughts of 2016 to take a back seat
  • She says members should act as they think is right and let the politics follow

Editor's note: Stephanie Cutter is a co-host of the new "Crossfire," which debuts on Monday, September 9, at 6:30 p.m. ET on CNN. She is a partner at Precision Strategies, which advises Democratic candidates and progressive and corporate clients. She served in the White House as deputy senior advisor to President Obama and then served as deputy campaign manager for his re-election campaign. She joined Obama's 2008 campaign as Michelle Obama's chief of staff and senior adviser to then-Senator Obama.

(CNN) -- The eyes of the world are on the U.S. Congress this week and next. Unlike resolutions about naming a post office, honoring the 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox or defunding Obamacare, members of Congress also take votes that test their consciences and prompt them to examine what they believe because the right vote might not be the one that is politically expedient or representative of the current public mood.

Our elected representatives will vote on whether to authorize the president to use military force in Syria, where according to U.S. and British intelligence, the regime of Bashar al-Assad defied an international norm and used sarin gas to murder roughly 1,400 of its own citizens, including more than 400 children.

The American people, weary from more than a decade of war, are rightfully skeptical of any plan to get involved in a civil war that already has claimed the lives of more than 100,000.

Stephanie Cutter
Stephanie Cutter

At times like this, I think about the words of my former boss, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who 11 years ago this month on the precipice of the Iraq War said, "There is a difference between honest public dialogue and partisan appeals. There is a difference between questioning policy and questioning motives.

"There are Republicans and Democrats who support the immediate use of force -- and Republicans and Democrats who have raised doubts and dissented. In this serious time for America and many American families, no one should poison the public square by attacking the patriotism of opponents, or by assailing proponents as more interested in the cause of politics than in the merits of their cause. I reject this, as should we all."

Voting your conscience -- standing up for what you believe in -- is not only the safest way to ensure you can articulate a defense for your vote, but it's also your duty as an elected official.

Should Obama act without public support?
Stephanie Cutter on developing Let's Move!

This crime committed by al-Assad's government, and belief that inaction could lead more countries to use chemical weapons and put our security in peril, has forced a president who said he "was elected to end wars" into the unlikely position of advocating for military action.

By seeking the authorization of Congress, the president did his part to restore the power to the people, or, specifically, to their elected representatives.

Like Kennedy, I, too, would like to reject the notion that Republicans or Democrats in Congress would seize upon this vote to tally political points or pad their campaign finances.

Pacifist Democrats or libertarian Republicans may vote against the authorization because, after more than a decade of war, they don't think the United States should intervene.

Others on both sides of the aisle will vote for it because they believe our country has a role to play in holding dictators accountable who use weapons of mass destruction in violation of a standard adhered to by 98% of the world's population.

Both votes should be votes of conscience.

Unfortunately, last week we saw a congressman accused of fundraising off his position switch, a presidential hopeful suspected of reversing his stance to please his party's base and remembrances of former presidential contenders who were tarnished by voting for a war.

For those elected officials who are concerned about how his or her vote will impact their next election or their future presidential pursuits, I promise you two things: Voters will respect your decision if it is made out of duty of office, rather than personal ambition, and whatever you think the politics are today might not be the same politics a year from now, and will most certainly not be the politics three years from now.

There is an eternity between now and the next presidential election, and the most important aspect you can retain between now and that first presidential primary vote is authenticity -- don't put your finger to the wind, vote out of spite for this president or overcorrect the lessons of the fateful vote in 2002 to authorize the Iraq War.

Do what you think is right, and the politics will follow.

On "Crossfire," in Congress and in the public discourse, I am looking forward to the thoughtful discussion about the stakes in Syria, and I am proud to live in a country where peaceful disagreements are part of our fabric.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephanie Cutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT