By Michael Catalini
September 3, 2013
President Obama's push to persuade Congress to authorize a strike on Syria presses ahead on Tuesday, as two top administration officials will make the White House's case before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Although a number of lawmakers have been in the Capitol for briefings with administration officials, committee members will be returning nearly a week before Congress is officially due to return from its August recess to consider Obama's case to launch a military strike against dictator Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will make the administration's case to lawmakers. Over the Labor Day weekend, Obama said that any strike would be "limited in duration and scope." The military intervention would exclude "boots on the ground," the president said.
On Saturday, the administration delivered the text of an authorization for the use of force to Congress, seeking approval "to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons."
The administration argues that the attack is necessary to deter the proliferation of chemical weapons, which the White House says Assad used against his people on Aug. 21. The question of launching an attack arose because Obama had drawn a so-called red line at the use of chemical weapons. Now that government intelligence reportedly shows that line has been crossed, the administration is compelled to act.
Whether Obama will win Congress' approval remains in doubt. Libertarian-leaning Republicans and liberal Democrats expressed skepticism about launching an attack over the weekend. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the president pro tempore of the Senate, told reporters that the authorization was too broad and would be amended, according to media reports. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., meanwhile, cast a possible attack as a mistake during an appearance on Meet the Press.
Senate Democratic leaders quickly offered support to the president. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said military action would be "justified and necessary."
"I believe the United States has a moral obligation as well as a national security interest in defending innocent lives against such atrocities," Reid said in a statement.
Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., praised the president, but he stopped short of calling for military action.
"If we can do something to discourage Assad and others like him from using chemical weapons without engaging in a war and without making a long-term military commitment of the United States, I'm open to that debate," Durbin said in a statement.
Seeking to shore up support among senators, Obama invited Republican hawks John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to the White House on Monday, the Associated Press reported. Both McCain and Graham support a robust strike aimed at toppling Assad's regime.
House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, has said his chamber will consider the president's authorization request when it returns the week of Sept. 9. In a sign of just how much opposition Obama will face from his political opponents in the House, Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., jabbed the White House over military cuts due to sequestration.
In addition to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday, a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing is expected this week and administration officials are briefing members in both classified and unclassified settings, according to the Associated Press. The White House gave a two-hour closed briefing to lawmakers on Sunday, AP reported.
On Monday, administration officials--including Kerry, Hagel, Dempsey, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper--briefed the House Democratic Caucus in an unclassified teleconference call that lasted 70 minutes, according to a House Democratic aide.
By Michael Catalini
September 3, 2013