The president has in recent days taken fire from members of his own party for taking a low-key approach to tackling the problem presented by the Islamic State, particularly as the images of two American journalists kidnapped and beheaded in Syria have flashed across television screens. Even Minnesota senator Al Franken, who since his election in 2008 has gone to great lengths to avoid the media, made headlines when he said he was “troubled” by some of Obama’s statements.
Though the president has become a political liability for Democrats this election season, he hasn’t lost all of his allies in the Senate. In his first debate with Republican challenger Cory Gardner, Colorado senator Mark Udall stood behind Obama’s cautious approach.
In the course of an hour-long debate with Gardner in Grand Junction, Colo., Udall said that “ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation.” He cited his membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee to substantiate that assertion, and he even invoked the names of the American journalists murdered at the hands of the Islamic State in the course of his pleas for restraint.
“I can tell you,” Udall said, “Steve Sotloff and James Foley would tell us, don’t be impulsive. Horrible and barbarous as those executions were, don’t be impulsive, come up with a plan to knock ISIL back.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Udall — who supports air strikes against the Islamic State — also argued that the militants are attempting to bait the U.S. into taking brash action and might even welcome a more aggressive U.S. effort. “We need to understand what they’re trying to do,” he told Colorado’s 9News, “which is to cause us to rush in, not think through what our strategy is.”
President Obama on Sunday told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Islamic State poses a “serious threat” to the U.S., though not yet as acute as that posed by al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks.
Udall and Gardner, a second-term congressman, are locked in a tight race, one of many that could determine the Senate majority come November. The latest NBC News/Marist poll has Udall leading Gardner by six points; the RealClearPolitics average has Udall up by three.
UPDATE: Cory Gardner issued a statement Monday afternoon slamming Udall’s remarks. “Americans have watched in horror in recent weeks as two of our fellow countrymen have been brutally executed by terrorists, and it’s outrageous that Senator Udall would put words into the mouths of dead Americans” Gardner said. “Furthermore, it’s deeply troubling that he views a terrorist organization like ISIL as not an imminent threat to America.”