President Obama seeks Syria support from Congress

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Associated Press & 13News Now

Posted on September 2, 2013 at 6:00 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is inviting former foe Sen. John McCain to the White House, hoping one of Congress' most intractable foreign policy hawks will help sell the idea of a U.S. military intervention in Syria to a nation deeply scarred by more than a decade of war.

Having announced over the weekend that he'll seek congressional approval for military strikes against the Assad regime, the Obama administration is now trying to rally support among Americans and their congressman and senators.

Monday's meeting with McCain is meant to address concerns of those who feel Obama isn't doing enough to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad's government for an attack in the Damascus suburbs last month that the U.S. says included sarin gas and killed at least 1,429 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children. On the other side of the spectrum, some Republican and Democratic lawmakers don't want to see military action at all.

Obama's turnabout on Syria sets the stage for the biggest foreign policy vote in Congress since the Iraq war.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said Sunday the debate will help define how America views its role as a world power.

"The tone that we use while having this discussion also is vitally important. These are issues that should not break down along typical partisan lines, and the debate will provide an opportunity to demonstrate that America's elected leadership can come together to resolve serious issues. People across the country and indeed around the world will be watching closely as the world's greatest democracy debates, and then decides, these important questions."

Sen. Tim Kane (D-VA) , who canceled appearances for Tuesday so he could return for hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the authorization of military action in Syria, said, “I strongly support the President’s decision to seek congressional approval of military action in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Our nation is stronger in military matters when we act in a united fashion. The opportunity to fully debate this difficult situation will help educate the American public about the important issues at stake and ultimately provide a political consensus that our service members must be able to rely on.”

Also Sunday, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd District) attended a classified briefing on the situation Sunday afternoon. Afterwards, he issued a statement saying he was "deeply disturbed" by the significant evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against innocent civilians.

"I am pleased that the President will seek Congressional authorization before committing to use any U.S. military force against the Assad regime. I believe such authorization is required by the War Powers Resolution and the Constitution when there appears to be no imminent threat to American citizens or assets," he said.

At his annual Labor Day picnic Monday, Scott said he hasn't seen enough evidence that proves Syria is a threat to the United States or its interests overseas and he remains undecided about a U.S. led attack. 

"We have to decide what's in our own national interests and decide whether Americans would be more or less at risk if we attack somebody," Scott said.

In a tweet Sunday afternoon after appearing on CNN, Rep. Scott Rigell (R-2nd District) said, "If I had to pull out my voting card today, I'd vote no (to strike in Syria). But I look forward to the debate."

Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) said, “It is shocking and deplorable that the Assad regime would use chemical weapons on its own people, and the international community cannot allow this to happen without serious consequences. I believe seeking Congressional authority is the appropriate way forward. Without putting American troops on the ground, the atrocities in Syria require a strong response that will prevent them from happening again and ensure that Syria's chemical weapons stockpile does not fall into the hands of terrorists and further destabilize the Middle East.”

He also said he expects President Obama to continue to engage members of the United Nations and our allies in order to achieve an international consensus supporting any action.

Also Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. received new physical evidence in the form of blood and hair samples that shows sarin gas was used in the Aug. 21 attack. Kerry said the U.S. must respond with its credibility on the line.

"We know that the regime ordered this attack," he said. "We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards." Kerry's assertion coincided with the beginning of a forceful administration appeal for congressional support.

On Capitol Hill, senior administration officials briefed lawmakers in private to explain why the U.S. was compelled to act against Assad. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also made calls to individual lawmakers. Further classified meetings were planned from Monday to Wednesday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans a meeting Tuesday, according to its chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. The Senate Armed Service Committee will gather a day later, said Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the panel.

McCain, the candidate Obama defeated for the presidency in 2008, said Obama asked him to come to the White House specifically to discuss Syria.

"It can't just be, in my view, pinprick cruise missiles," the Arizona Republican told CBS' "Face the Nation."

In an interview with an Israeli television network, he said Obama has "encouraged our enemies" by effectively punting his decision to Congress. He and fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have threatened to vote against Obama's authorization if the military plan doesn't seek to shift the momentum of the 2 1/2 year civil war toward the rebels trying to oust Assad from power. Obama is trying to convince Americans and the world about the need for action.

So far, he is finding few international partners willing to engage in a conflict that has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the past 2 1/2 years and dragged in terrorist groups on both sides of the battlefield.

Only France is firmly on board among the major military powers. Britain's Parliament rejected the use of force in a vote last week. Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Monday the information the U.S. showed Moscow to prove the Syrian regime was behind the chemical attack was "absolutely unconvincing."

The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and four other ships in its strike group moved into the Red Sea early on Monday, U.S. defense officials said, describing the move as “prudent planning” in case the ships are needed for military action against Syria.

With Navy ships on standby in the eastern Mediterranean ready to launch missiles, Congress on Sunday began a series of meetings that are expected to continue over the next several days in preparation for a vote once lawmakers return from summer break, which is scheduled to end Sept. 9.

Senior administration officials gave a two-hour classified briefing to dozens of members of Congress in the Capitol on Sunday. Lawmakers expressed a range of opinions coming out of the meeting, from outright opposition to strident support for Obama's request for the authorization to use force.

Among Democrats, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan said he'd approve Obama's request and predicted it would pass. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said he was concerned the authorization might be "too broad." Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the administration still has "work to do with respect to shoring up the facts of what happened." Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington said she was concerned about what Congress was being asked to approve. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the war resolution needed tightening. "I don't think Congress is going to accept it as it is," Sessions said.

AP-WF-09-02-13 0839GMT

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