Amid increasing tensions with Russia, Sen. Bill Nelson offered modest assurance that the U.S. has a military edge in air, water and on land — but on the cyber front, Russia has the advantage.
“Vladimir Putin can beat us in cyber,” Nelson said frankly of Russia’s President. Citing the Russian breaches into the American elections process, including infiltration of voting systems and online electioneering, Nelson said Putin already has “demonstrated what he can do to an American essential institution.” While voting systems were hacked, it’s maintained that the integrity of the 2016 ballot remained intact.
Nelson was flanked by Sen. Cory Booker, the Democrat from New Jersey, when speaking to media in Tallahassee Saturday afternoon following Friday night’s strike on Syria sanctioned by the U.S., Britain and France.
Only days ago it was widely reported that chemical weapons had been used on people in the Syrian town of Douma at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad. Friday’s assault, President Donald Trump said while addressing the nation shortly afterward, was a “direct result of Russia’s failure” to keep Assad from using chemical weapons.
Trump’s retaliation was expected. The President vowed earlier this week to launch “nice and new and ‘smart’” missiles targeting Syria. The question became not if, but when America would seek reprisal, which manifested Friday night.
Nelson supported the missile strike but criticized the President for warning the world ahead of it.
“The President let the cat out of the bag,” Nelson said. “[Trump] lost one of the essential things in a military victory … the element of surprise.”
Syria and Russia reported that some of the missiles, including all 12 targeting one of the bases, were shot down before making landfall. The Pentagon disputed those claims, saying all missiles touched down before Syria launched defensive measures.
Nelson, who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, dismissed the reports of Russia and Syria. He trusts the Pentagon.
“Are you gonna believe the Russians and the Syrians? Are you gonna believe the guy who gasses his own people with the most pernicious kind of chemical attack, with all of those poisons where people foam at the mouth?” Nelson said. “You gonna believe a guy like that?”
Nelson, who wasn’t briefed ahead of Friday night’s assault, criticized the President for acting without bona fide congressional approval.
“Both of us strongly believe that the president ought to come to Congress asking for an authorization for the use of military force,” Nelson said gesturing to Booker. The Commander-in-Chief is still operating under an authorization that followed the 9/11 attacks, Nelson said.
He added: Congress should be given the option to “weigh in” and “there ought to be a debate.”
Nelson via Twitter released a statement supporting the missile strikes late Friday night. Sen. Marco Rubio, Nelson’s Republican counterpart, did likewise via an official statement and urged the President “to follow up with a real and comprehensive strategy for ending Assad’s threat to his people, to the region and to U.S. security, and for countering Russian and Iranian support for the Syrian dictatorship’s ongoing barbarity.”
Nelson’s media availability came before he hopped on a jet to fly out of Florida’s capital city. The appearance follows Gov. Rick Scott‘s entrance into the Senate race in which he hopes to unseat the Chipley native.
Scott, via his campaign Twitter account, also has come out in support of U.S. intervention in Syria.