SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart said Wednesday there may be a "greater sense of urgency" to respond to the deadly suspected chemical attack in Syria, but called concerns about Russian retaliation "greatly overblown."
Stewart, a Utah Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and is receiving regular updates on last weekend's attack, said Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on civilians as a warning to rebels fighting in that nation's civil war.
"It's an incredibly and violently aggressive way to send that kind of message, but that's the kind of person that he is," Stewart said of Assad, who continues to be backed by Russia.
President Donald Trump, who has not yet announced a response to the attack, had harsh words for Russia on Twitter earlier Wednesday.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!" Trump tweeted.
Stewart said he understands the president's use of the social media platform to communicate directly to the American people but stressed that "diplomacy by Twitter" should be avoided.
"I think that's not an unreasonable thing to ask of him," the 2nd Congressional District representative said. But he said Trump is also using more conventional channels to make it clear he's serious about some sort of response.
"I think the measure of his response isn't what he tweets on Wednesday. It's what he and his allies actually do to follow up on that," Stewart said. "I would expect we should see something within a few days or so."
Based on what he's learned through the House Intelligence Committee briefings, Stewart said "there's a greater sense of urgency than maybe the media is talking about in the sense that this isn't just about some tweet."17 comments on this story
He said a response from the United States and its allies would likely have to be military.
"This is about establishing for the world community that we won't accept this type of behavior. In that sense, it is a little more serious" than the controversy surrounding Trump's tweet, he said.
But it also may be less dire than some are suggesting.
"This idea that this is going to lead to World War III, I think, is greatly overblown. I don't think the Russians are going to retaliate or respond," Stewart said. "The president has to back up his words."