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Schumer worried about Syria involvement

Schumer worried about Syria involvement

Senate minority leader in Glenville talks about Social Security service improvements
Schumer worried about Syria involvement
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer speaks Monday at the Glenville Senior Center.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Daily Gazette Photographer

Correction: A previous version of the story misidentified Sen. Charles Schumer's position in the Senate. He is the Senate minority leader. 

GLENVILLE — Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, called last Friday's missile strikes on Syria "appropriate," but said he's worried about the U.S. being drawn into a wider war there.

Schumer commented on the missile strikes, a response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians, during an appearance at the Glenville Senior Center on Monday, where he also discussed the need for improved Social Security services.

President Donald Trump's decision, in conjunction with allies, to attack Syrian chemical weapons facilities has been praised and criticized, but Schumer warned against deeper U.S. involvement in the 7-year-old Syrian civil war, given the recent history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

"If you look at Iraq, we sacrificed close to 5,000 of our best young people who made the ultimate sacrifice, spent a trillion dollars that could have been better spent here [in the United States], and Iraq's no better off today than it was back then it," Schumer said. "I don't want to repeat the same mistake in Syria, and I believe any large-term engagement should go to Congress, and Congress would be the check."

Schumer said he doesn't think the one-time strikes required advance approval from Congress, though he said deeper involvement would require such approval.

Asked whether Syria and its president, Bashar Assad, got the message about not continuing to use internationally banned chemical weapons, Schumer said: "I don't know. Assad's a bad guy."

Schumer, leader of the Senate's Democratic minority, would not comment on the new book by former FBI director James Comey and the allegations it makes about Trump's moral unfitness for office, saying he hadn't read the book or seen any of Comey's interviews.

He also said something needs to be done about how social media companies like Facebook manage users' personal information, though he acknowledged there's no consensus on what should be done following Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's appearances before Congress last week.

"There has to be some limits; people have to have more say over their information," Schumer said. "Whether it should be government that does it or industry is a question that's being debated in Congress right now. It's a very difficult question because, if you talk about it in the abstract, it's hard to say specifically this is OK, and this isn't, so it should take some thought. There shouldn't be a rush to judgment. We got to do something."

During a question-and-answer session with just over 100 seniors, Schumer acknowledged the political atmosphere in Washington has become highly partisan and vindictive, but he said he tries not to be overly partisan.

"I never make it personal, and I always try to work across the aisle," he said. "I learned the lesson when I was 19. You always try to look for the good in people."

Schumer flew into the nearby Schenectady County Airport and stayed at the senior center about 40 minutes. It was one of a series of events to advocate a reduction in in-person and telephone-hold wait times at the Social Security Administration, which has field offices around New York state and serves about 3.5 million Social Security recipients.

In the Capital Region, he said, telephone wait times average 40 minutes, and the average disabilities claim appeal takes nearly two years to be heard.

"We hear, 'I'm going to withdraw the application because I just can't deal with the process,'" said Timothy Clune, executive director of Disabilities Rights New York, an advocacy group.

The omnibus federal budget agreement approved in March includes $480 million in increased funding for the Social Security Administration -- money Schumer said should go toward hiring people, improving technology and addressing backlogs.

"With baby boomers retiring and becoming eligible for Social Security benefits, with 10,000 reaching the retirement age every day, it's becoming more and more clear that field offices across upstate New York are unable to keep up with demand," Schumer said.

At the meeting, however, several seniors told of having quick and pleasant visits to the Schenectady SSI office.

One senior asked about the possibility of cuts to benefits.

"As long as I have clout in the Senate, we will never have any cuts in benefits," Schumer vowed.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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