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Senators blast 'war criminal' Assad after gas attack in Syria

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Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, spoke to KHQA from Capitol Hill on April 5, 2017. (SBG)

Lawmakers denounced the Syrian government Wednesday, following an apparent gas attack that killed at least 70 people that officials believe was likely the work of President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The Syrian government denies responsibility for the attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib, and Russia claimed it was the result of a Syrian airstrike on a terrorist ammunition depot. Senators are unconvinced.

“Assad is no more than a horrible war criminal,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said it is “unacceptable” for the Syrian president to remain in power.

“We need to come down on the Assad regime very aggressively,” he said.

Many of the attack’s victims were children, and social media was inundated with photos and videos of the dead and dying Tuesday.

President Donald Trump initially called the attack “intolerable,” but he placed blame on the Obama administration.

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” he said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, took Trump to task for assigning responsibility to his predecessor.

“The administration should not point fingers,” he said. “That’s always the easy thing to do and too often the story in this town.”

Trump delivered a more forceful criticism of Assad at a news conference Wednesday, but he refused to discuss how he would respond.

"That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact," Trump said. "That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I've been watching it and seeing it and it doesn't get any worse than that."

Brown offered a suggestion.

“What I would like to see President Trump do is use his very close relationship with President Putin of Russia to get Russia to get Syria to back off,” he said.

Brown also called for establishing a safe zone in Syria, but he warned against committing U.S. troops to such a volatile situation.

Ernst said the conflict in Syria should raise concerns even for Midwesterners, particularly after Tuesday’s horrific attack.

“It should not be excused and we must draw the line somewhere,” Ernst said. “This is way too far.”