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Little Consensus Among Lawmakers on Next Steps With Syria

President Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan; official White House photo by Pete Souza

President Obama discusses the crisis Syria with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the Oval Office last week. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

The Morning Line

There appeared to be widespread agreement among lawmakers Sunday that the U.S. must respond to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, but there was little consensus on the steps that should be taken.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned Sunday that there is no support for sending U.S. forces into Syria.

“The American people are weary. They don’t want boots on the ground. I don’t want boots on the ground,” McCain said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground on Syria.”

“That would turn the people against us,” McCain added.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., concurred with McCain’s assessment. “We don’t need to put boots on the ground, but we need to enable their neighbors, the neighbors of Syria, to bring some sort of peaceful resolution to this,” Chambliss said. “The whole world is watching.”

In an interview with Foreign Policy last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for sending U.S. troops into Syria to secure chemical weapons supplies.

On Sunday, Graham warned that inaction by the U.S. could result in harmful consequences.

“If we keep this hands-off approach to Syria, this indecisive action towards Syria, kind of not knowing what we’re going to do next, we’re going to have war with Iran, because Iran’s going to take our inaction in Syria as meaning we’re not serious about their nuclear weapons program,” Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We need to get involved.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said all options should remain on the table — including the use of U.S. troops — in determining how to approach the situation in Syria. “I don’t think you want to ever rule it out,” McCaskill said on CBS. “Obviously, we don’t want to do that unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

A survey released last month by the Pew Research Center found little public support for intervening in Syria, with 64 percent of respondents saying the U.S. does not have a responsibility to do something about the conflict. But a Washington Post-ABC News poll from December showed that if chemical weapons were used, 63 percent of Americans would back some form of military involvement.

The White House, well aware there is little public appetite for engaging in another war, is approaching the news with caution.

President Barack Obama told reporters Friday the U.S. is working with the United Nation and countries in the region to swiftly figure out what is happening. He said the “preliminary” intelligence assessments shared with Congress last week leave U.S. officials with “varying degrees of confidence about the actual use,” and that “there are a range of questions around how, when, where these weapons may have been used.” This is just the beginning of a “very vigorous investigation,” he said.

“I’ve been very clear publicly, but also privately, that for the Syrian government to utilize chemical weapons on its people crosses a line that will change my calculus and how the United States approaches these issues,” Mr. Obama said.

“So this is not an on or off switch. This is an ongoing challenge that all of us have to be concerned about.”

The president said what’s happened in Syria is “horrific,” and added, “To use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations, that is going to be a game changer.”

“We have to act prudently. We have to make these assessments deliberately,” the president said. “But I think all of us, not just in the United States but around the world, recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations. So this is going to be something that we’ll be paying a lot of attention to — trying to confirm, and mobilize the international community around those issues.”

The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said “some action needs to be taken” on Syria, and urged the president to stick to the red line he previously laid down.

“It can’t be a dotted line. It can’t be anything other than a red line,” Rogers said on ABC’s “This Week.”

On Friday’s NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown fielded a debate on different approaches between Kori Schake, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and David Cortright, director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

The debate over the U.S. approach to Syria could subside this week with Congress on recess, but calls for intervention are likely to return if and when the use of chemical weapons is confirmed. In the meantime, expect to keeping hearing words such as “careful” and “deliberate” coming from the White House.


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Katelyn Polantz and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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