Obama Administration Intensifies Push for Military Action in Syria

BY Terence Burlij  September 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM EST


President Obama meets in the Situation Room August 31 with his national security advisors to discuss strategy in Syria. (Photo by Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images)

The Morning Line

President Barack Obama and members of his administration on Tuesday will ramp up a critical lobbying campaign to convince Congress to authorize use of military force against Syria. In a dual push, the commander in chief and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to host lawmakers at the White House, while Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel press the case on Capitol Hill.

The morning session at the White House will include the leaders of the Senate’s Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees, and their counterparts in the House. Kerry and Hagel will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later in the day. They also will field questions from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The push comes a day after the president met with two of Capitol Hill’s strongest advocates for military action, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

“A rejection, a vote against that resolution by Congress, I think would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States and the president,” McCain told reporters after the gathering.

Graham suggested that Mr. Obama gave the Republican duo assurances that the administration would expand its assistances to the rebels in Syria. “There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition, to get other regional players involved,” Graham said.

Other lawmakers have made clear they intend to rework the draft resolution to incorporate specific goals and limits with respect to U.S. involvement in Syria. Politico’s Josh Bresnahan details some of the changes being made to the plan:

Some of the options being considered for the revised Authorization for the Use of Military Force include a 60-day period for Obama to launch “narrow, limited” strikes against Assad’s regime with the potential for a 30-day extension of that deadline.

Language barring the insertion of U.S. ground troops — but crafted to allow special forces operations or the rescue of a downed American flier, for instance — is also being considered, the sources said.

And Obama would be prohibited from making the toppling of Assad’s government the goal of any U.S. military effort in Syria, as some hawkish lawmakers have supported.

The revisions are designed to win broad bipartisan backing from senators who are on the fence over whether to back a Syria campaign, GOP and Democratic sources said.

Top officials, including Kerry, briefed lawmakers Monday about the case for force and to discuss the resolution Mr. Obama presented over the weekend.

There were 127 House members tuning in, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seemed to make clear she supports using force against Assad. Democrats will count the votes as lawmakers decide, but will not officially “whip” the resolution and pressure them either way, she said.

Members of Republican leadership have not given a clear signal about how much they will lobby members to vote for or against the resolution, and aides point to a weekend statement from House leadership noting they are “glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised.”

The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin, meanwhile, writes that the upcoming debate over Syria could signal “which wing of the Republican Party — the traditional hawks, or a growing bloc of noninterventionists — has the advantage in the fierce internal debates over foreign policy that have been taking place all year.”

The Washington Post has a handy guide for seeing where members of Congress stand so far on the resolution. With Congress still officially on recess until Monday, a vote on the measure in both the House and Senate is expected next week.

As The Atlantic detailed, Congress has declared war just 11 times in history.

The administration’s push for action ramped up Friday, when Kerry made the case outlining all the evidence of Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Kerry stressed the administration was making an effort to be transparent, releasing a report based on “thousands” of sources to the public. Read that document here.

The NewsHour fielded a debate Friday night between Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, before the president announced he would seek authorization from Congress.

And Jeffrey Brown tackled the developments Monday on the show, outlining the day’s activities and going over the United States’ military options with retired Gen. John Keane, former Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley and former Defense Department official Dov Zakheim.

Watch here or below:


Margaret Warner reported from Egypt about the international reaction to the president’s move. “Some people said to me, you got it wrong — the United States got it wrong about Iraq. You told the world there were weapons of mass destruction being made, and they were not,” Margaret told Jeff. “So, there are many people here who even doubt the intelligence that the Obama administration has presented with such kind of authority and confidence this time.

Watch here or below:


McCain and Graham spoke to the press at the White House for more than 20 minutes on Monday. Watch:


And you can watch the president’s weekend statement in full here or below:


Editor’s note: The Morning Line will be back to five days per week Monday, Sept. 9. Visit our home page for news and show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

LINE ITEMS

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TOP TWEETS

Katelyn Polantz, Jordan Vesey and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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