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Lawmaker Tells Newsmax: 'Nothing New' in White House Syria Briefings

By John Gizzi   |   Monday, 09 Sep 2013 05:49 PM

With the White House hoping to woo reluctant members of Congress to support an airstrike against Syria through a second round of classified briefings on Monday, one House member said he found "nothing new" in the first such briefing provided by the administration last week.

In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, two-term Republican Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio said he learned "nothing new" from the briefing that he and about 80 colleagues attended behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.

"I drove five and one-half hours from my district to Washington for this briefing and I read all the classified material that was provided," former U.S. Air Force pilot Johnson told Newsmax. "I'm glad I went, and the briefing certainly helped fill in some gaps regarding concerns I had about Syria."

As far as providing fresh information to solidify a case for an airstrike, the congressman said "there was nothing new."

Johnson also questioned the degree to which the administration is committed to winning over senators and U.S. representatives who are now undecided or "leaning against" U.S. participation in a Syrian airstrike.

"Neither the president nor the vice president nor [Secretary of State] John Kerry showed up. No senior Cabinet official showed up," Johnson said.

The absence of top Obama administration officials at the briefing was another sign to Johnson that the president and his team are only bringing in members of Congress at the last moment after never seeking their views before on how to deal with Syria.

"The day before the briefing, the president came out in the Rose Garden and said 'I will do that' and will go to Congress," he said. "But so far, he has never once engaged in a legislative approach to this situation."

"This attitude," Johnson added, “is part of a pattern that demonstrates the lack of a comprehensive foreign policy by the president. It is obvious in the conflicting accounts about the Benghazi raid, the developments in Egypt following [President Mohammad] Morsi’s overthrow, and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin staring down President Obama at the summit in St. Petersburg last week."

Johnson spoke to Newsmax after a week of town hall meetings at which, he recalled, "not one of my constituents said they support the military getting involved in Syria."

Questions that were raised most at these meetings, he said, centered on three points: "What is the national security risk with a Syrian strike? What are we going to do once we get involved in an operation? And how does it affect the American people?"

At this point, Johnson considers himself in the "leaning against" column on a vote on Syrian action. To win over him and many others in that category, it seems clear the administration has a lot more work to do on Capitol Hill — and, in Johnson's view, a better briefing for lawmakers today than the one a week ago.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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