Congress Returns as President Mounts Major Syria Lobbying Effort
Protesters march in Los Angeles Saturday to urge Congress to vote against a military strike on Syria (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Editor’s note: There was a technical issue with today’s Morning Line. This is a corrected version. We apologize for the delay.
President Barack Obama this week will intensify his lobbying push to win congressional approval and shift public support behind his call to launch a limited military strike against Syria.
In an interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, denied he was responsible for the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus on Aug. 21 and provoked Mr. Obama’s calls for action.
In London, Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed Assad’s claims. “What does he offer?” Kerry asked. “Words that are contradicted by fact.”
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough appeared on all five Sunday talk shows to outline what he characterized as a “narrow issue” about the Assad government’s use of “dastardly” sarin gas. McDonough told each of the shows that the central question for lawmakers is, “are there consequences” for a dictator who would have used chemical weapons on children.
Rose’s entire interview with President Assad — approximately an hour long — will air on PBS at 9 p.m. EDT Monday. Excerpts will be released Monday on CBS This Morning as well as CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.
A new CNN poll released Monday offers similar findings to other surveys out over the past week — Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of any action in Syria. From CNN’s writeup: “More than seven in 10 say such a strike would not achieve significant goals for the U.S. and a similar amount say it’s not in the national interest for the U.S. to get involved in Syria’s bloody two-year long civil war.”
Lawmakers who are returning to Washington after a summer recess have been telling reporters calls to their offices are 10-to-1 against a strike.
That’s the backdrop for Mr. Obama’s Monday night series of television interviews, including with PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill, and a planned Tuesday address to the nation, all ahead of the first big test vote Wednesday in the Senate.
The president also is doing in-person outreach — joining Vice President Joe Biden at a Sunday dinner with six Senate Republicans and planning to head to Capitol Hill Tuesday to meet with Senate Democrats — ahead of the first vote.
“This is a very important week,” McDonough said on “Fox News Sunday.”
And the entire matter is complicated for a president whose relationships with Congress are frayed.
Consider this idea, raised in the 27th graf of Paul Kane’s front-page story in The Washington Post Sunday:
… senior GOP and Democratic aides said they feared that some House Republicans would demand impeachment proceedings if Obama rejected the House vote and ordered strikes.
“I wouldn’t make a judgment on that,” Sen. Rand Paul said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked about impeachment potential.
Paul cited the president’s recess appointments and noted he thinks “there are different ways you look at constitutionality of things … he has already been proven to try to go above the law in many instances.”
McDonough and others have repeatedly dodged questions about whether the president would strike Syria even if the Congressional resolution is defeated.
Mr. Obama or members of his administration have spoken with at least 85 senators and more than 165 House members, according to White House officials. That includes McDonough’s outreach to the Progressive and Hispanic caucuses and freshmen Democrats, and Mr. Biden’s discussions with lawmakers. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who backs the president on Syria, will speak about the issue at a White House event Monday afternoon.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are invited to an all-members briefing Monday evening as they return to Washington. Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice will attend. A similar briefing will be held Wednesday for the Senate.
The Washington Post has a handy guide for seeing where members of Congress stand so far on the resolution.
Ifill and co-anchor Judy Woodruff interviewed the president at the White House on Aug. 28. Watch that interview here.
SEVEN DAYS A WEEK
In addition to Monday’s relaunch of the NewsHour with Ifill and Woodruff side-by-side, the PBS team delivered on Saturday the debut of NewsHour Weekend, anchored from our New York studios by Hari Sreenivasan. (Check out the Washington Post’s Style Section profile of the new faces of the NewsHour.)
The weekend shows featured a wide range of reports on foreign affairs and American culture. On Sunday, USA Today’s Susan Davis went over the likelihood of an approval vote on Syria and Christina talked to Hari about what else Congress faces after its summer recess.
Watch the Saturday show here or below:
Watch the Sunday show here or below:
And check out our guide for how to find when your PBS station airs the weekend shows, and make sure to reset your DVR.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made the case for the strike against Syria in a Richmond-Times Dispatch op-ed on Friday. He also signaled it could be two weeks before the House votes on a Syria resolution.
The White House floated over the weekend that Mr. Obama is considering another woman, treasury official Lael Brainard, as a possible replacement for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Ahead of Tuesday’s mayoral primary in New York City, a Quinnipiac University survey found Public Advocate Bill de Blasio leading the Democratic field with 39 percent, followed by former City Comptroller William Thompson at 25 percent, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at 18 percent and former Congressman Anthony Weiner at 6 percent. Meanwhile, outgoing three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested de Blasio was running a “racist” campaign. And Republican hopeful John Catsimatidis said during a debate with Joseph Lhota that he has a “love factor with minorities.”
The Post assesses the state of the Virginia gubernatorial contest as it heads into the final fall stretch.
The Hill catches us up on the state of the “defund ObamaCare” movement.
Former President Bill Clinton forcefully defended the health care law during a speech last week.
Newark Mayor and New Jersey Democratic Senate nominee Cory Booker announced Friday he’s cutting his much-criticized ties with the Internet start-up he founded, Waywire, and donating the money from his stake in the company to charity.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul will campaign for New Jersey GOP Senate candidate Steve Lonegan on Friday. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has feuded with Paul over national security issues, will skip the event, saying he planned to take his wife on a weekend trip for her birthday.
Rhode Island’s governor, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Lincoln Chaffee, announced he won’t seek re-election next year. The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan argues it’s actually a good thing for Democrats.
The Associated Press’ Steve Peoples notices there are hardly any Republicans in New England.
Why is Rep. Peter King spending time in New Hampshire? He’s “running for president,” of course, the New York Republican told a radio station.
Amy Walter explains in her Cook Political Report column why August town halls actually tell us nothing about the state of affairs in Congress, or anywhere else.
Rep. Darrell Issa is the richest member of Congress.
Members of Congress sure love their news outlets and fellow partisans on Twitter, an analysis by New York Magazine shows.
Former Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign, who left Congress amid an ethical scandal following an extramarital affair, has opened an animal hospital. Here’s a picture of Ensign holding a puppy.
Christina talked about reporters’ use of Twitter on the campaign trail on CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday.
First Lady Michelle Obama said Friday at an event with Shaq that her anti-childhood obesity campaign is creating a “cultural shift” in how Americans live and eat, and is beginning to have a positive influence on children’s health, the Associated Press reported.
Lego breaks through the gender barrier and unveils a female scientist.
- Mark your calendars. There will be a cat video film festival in New York next month.
“Gwen’s Take” this week examined the bipartisan alliance against strikes in Syria.
And the historic move of the president on Syria is the subject of “Judy’s Notebook.”
Christina interviewed NPR’s Glen Weldon about his book, “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.”
Presidential historians Michael Beschloss and Richard Norton Smith walked through a number of past American military conflicts — from the Gulf War to the invasion of Grenada — that shed light on the politics and planning for an intervention in Syria.
Paul Solman theorized about the slight drop in August’s official unemployment number and the bigger decrease in our “U7″ number, while Sara Horowitz, of NYC’s Freelancers Union, explained what the Bureau of Labor Statstics is missing every month.
- Mark Shields and David Brooks talked about Syria and what’s at stake for Mr. Obama with the congressional vote. Watch here or below:
- And the guys joined Hari via a Google hangout for the Doubleheader. Watch them discuss rap music, football and the prospects for immigration reform here or below:
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) September 8, 2013
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) September 7, 2013
— Chuck Woolery (@chuckwoolery) September 5, 2013
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) September 9, 2013
Baking in the bleachers. 106*F at 7:36 pm. Only in Arizona. pic.twitter.com/oPMQxwuenl
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) September 6, 2013
Congrats to @PeterHambyCNN on his new gig at CNN. Just a terrific political reporter.
— The Fix (@TheFix) September 4, 2013
— Christina Bellantoni (@cbellantoni) September 7, 2013
Some news in Keystone piece worth highlighting: Bloomberg, Paulson, Steyer, Rubin, Shultz 2 launch climate initiative http://t.co/jSp7x3MKTO
— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) September 9, 2013
Simone Pathe contributed to this report.
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