The world can’t ignore the “horror” of Syria’s chemical weapons attack, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said at the start of a hearing on President Barack Obama’s bid for congressional authorization of military action against Syria.
“This decision will be among the most difficult any of us will be asked to make,” Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said at the start of the hearing. Senators need to “put aside political differences and personal ideologies, forget partisanship and preoccupations, forget the polls, politics and personal consequences,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are set to testify in the first hearing on using force in Syria before the panel, which Hagel served on and Kerry led before his current post.
Obama began his full-court press today with lawmakers, calling for a “prompt” vote on an issue he has tied to U.S. moral authority and global leadership. The White House is making its case in meetings and congressional hearings.
Congressional leaders of both parties expressed support today for Obama’s request.
“The use of chemical weapons is a barbarous act,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters after he and other congressional leaders consulted with Obama this morning at the White House. Only the U.S. has the capability to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and “to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated,” the speaker said.
The administration dispatched officials to Congress to give senators a closed-door classified briefing on the Aug. 21 attack in a Damascus suburb that killed more than 1,400 people, more than 400 of them children.
Obama said today that he’s open to changes in the resolution authorizing force against Syria to respond to concerns, and would let lawmakers redraft authorization language the White House had sent to Congress.
Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, said the Senate probably will act before the House on a resolution to use force in Syria. The Tennessee Republican said he’s close to agreement with Menendez over how a more limited resolution would be structured.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor echoed Boehner’s support, saying in a statement that “America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially by a terrorist state such as Syria.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said “the evidence on the intelligence is clear” and Congress probably will support Obama’s bid for approval of action. The chairmen and ranking members of national security committees also were among those at the White House meeting.
Speaking at the White House earlier today, Obama vowed that any strike by the U.S. will be limited and “proportional,” and won’t involve U.S. ground troops. He indicated he’s open to changes in the resolution authorizing force to respond to concerns of lawmakers.
“This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan,” Obama said at the White House.
In Syria, where officials described Obama’s decision to consult Congress as a “historic American retreat,” Assad issued a warning to France, the sole U.S. ally prepared to join a mission against Syria.
Calling the Middle East a “powder keg” ready to explode, Assad told Le Figaro newspaper in an interview published late yesterday that a French intervention would lead to “repercussions, quite clearly negative ones, for the interests of France.”
French lawmakers will debate a possible role in a strike against Syria tomorrow. Yesterday, the French government added to the intelligence case against Assad, releasing a nine-page declassified assessment that identified the Syrian government as the only possible culprit behind the Aug. 21 poison gas attack east of Damascus.
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