Despite the support of two top Republicans on Tuesday, President Barack Obama may not succeed in persuading Congress to support limited military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad for his use of chemical weapons.
The United States has "enemies around the world that need to understand that we're not going to tolerate this type of behavior," House Speaker John Boehner said after meeting with Obama and other congressional leaders at the White House. "We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it's necessary.
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"This is something that the United States, as a country, needs to do," the Ohio Republican added. "I'm going to support the president's call for action. I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said that a failure to respond to the use of chemical weapons "only increases the likelihood of future WMD (weapons of mass destruction) use by the regime, transfer to Hezbollah, or acquisition by al-Qaida."
Their endorsement came after Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pledged their support on Monday after their private meeting with the president.
"The consequences would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the credibility of the president of the United States," McCain said in warning what could happen if Congress rejected Obama's call for strikes. "None of us want that."
But a sampling of GOP lawmakers by Newsmax on Tuesday showed just how tough a challenge Obama faces. Even McCain himself expressed regret that Obama went to Congress, saying that it has created "535 commanders in chief."
"Look, the president of the United States is the only commander," he said on Tuesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
“Other presidents have acted in keeping with the War Powers Act. And so, I think that it would be, frankly, it would be a risk.
"If I thought it was a meaningless resolution that constrained the president from doing what’s necessary, I couldn’t vote for it.”
Later, on CBS, McCain said: "I don’t think the president should have done this. Once he announced that we were going to have strikes, I think he should have acted, as other presidents have, both Republican or Democrat."
He added that the president now had to address the American people directly about his plans for Syria.
“The president needs to talk to the American people from the Oval Office, from his desk in the Oval Office, and show the American people again these pictures of the bodies stacked up, show them the horrific situation of a million children refugees, of the 100,000 killed,” McCain told CBS.
Later Tuesday, McCain pressed his case for military strikes at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that featured testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
They were dispatched to the Senate to help persuade lawmakers to support the resolution following an Aug. 21 attack using sarin gas on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. The White House said 1,429 died in the attack, including hundreds of children.
The Assad regime blamed the assault on rebel forces.
A new resolution that would restrict the type and duration of any military action that would be authorized, possibly including a ban on U.S. combat forces on the ground, was being written on Tuesday by Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
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It could be voted on by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday. Menendez is the chairman and Corker is the top Republican on the panel.
Kerry said at the hearing that he'd prefer not to have such language, hypothesizing the potential need for sending ground troops "in the event Syria imploded" or to prevent its chemical weapons cache from falling into the hands of a terrorist organization.
"President Obama is not asking America to go to war," Kerry said at the hearing. "This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter."
Meanwhile, the views of the GOP legislators sampled by Newsmax ranged from measured support for any Syrian strikes to clear opposition to a willingness to hear President Obama make his case.
"I am strongly opposed to American military involvement in Syria," said Rep. John Culberson of Texas, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee. "One side is Assad and Iran, and the other side is affiliated with al-Qaida. We have no business supporting either side.
"America’s job is to protect our vital national interests and to protect Israel," he said. "The Syrian civil war is a tragedy for the innocents involved, but does not affect our vital national security interests.
"I will be voting 'no' on the use of military force in Syria, and will work to encourage my colleagues to do the same," Culberson said.
But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the senior woman Republican in the lower chamber, said she would support military strikes against Syria but needed to see the exact language of the resolution that Congress would be asked to vote on next week.
Ros-Lehtinen is chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia.
Texas Rep. Randy Weber, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Newsmax that he was not yet convinced of a compelling interest for his support of military strikes.
“There are no simple answers," Weber told Newsmax in a statement. "The U.S. should view every country and every situation individually and not try to establish or espouse a 'one-size-fits-all' strategy for every country or every situation.
"The use of chemical weapons, while a direct violation of international law, is not enough to justify our military involvement," he added. "Classified briefings are being scheduled for Congress, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee intends to hold additional hearings to flush out this debate.
"I want to learn about both the intelligence coming from the region, as well as any potential plan of action to determine if it is compelling enough to warrant successful military intervention.
"Furthermore, we need to be mindful that in the event of military action, Israel will in all likelihood be targeted in retaliation. Can this president be counted on to stand with Israel?"
"And, lastly, I want to hear from my constituents in District 14 as to whether they believe we should be involved."
Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the vice chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Newsmax that she was open to hearing Obama's case for military action in Syria.
"The president needs to respect the Constitution and recognize that authority for action in Syria must come from Congress," she said. "If the president deems that military action in Syria is necessary, I stand ready to return to Washington to allow the president the opportunity to state his case to my colleagues and the American people.
"Most of my constituents oppose action in Syria and have growing concerns about the region."
Blackburn added: "The president has already set a dangerous precedent in Libya by stating that authorization from Congress was not required because our military was not engaged in 'hostilities.' If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 joint direct attack munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute 'hostilities,' what does?
"The president cannot continue to engage in hostile military operations around the globe without consent from Congress," Blackburn said.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, also of Texas, who is the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, endorsed Obama's seeking congressional approval on the issue.
"Now, he must make a compelling case — clearly laying out how military action is in the best interest of our national security and credibility abroad and putting forth a clear and detailed plan of action — to receive the approval of Congress," Hensarling told Newsmax.
“Chemical weapons are terrible and should never be used — especially on innocent civilians," said Rep. Joe Barton, another Lone Star State legislator, who also serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee. "Every American military action must be weighed carefully.
"You’ve got to show me what the national security issues and what the national strategic issues are for the U.S. to get directly involved militarily in Syria.
"Right now, based on the information I’ve received, I don’t see it. It is a civil war between two sides, where neither seems to be very friendly towards the interests of the U.S.
"There needs to be a concrete plan before you send young men and young women wearing the uniforms of our nation either into Syria, or over Syria, or outside of Syria on a ship," Barton concluded. "If there are national security or strategic interests, tell me what they are.
"But if you can’t show me, then my answer is we shouldn’t get involved," he said. "My vote will reflect that."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also would not commit, telling Fox News he is waiting until after a Wednesday classified briefing before making a decision.
"I don't believe we should take military action unless we have a clear and achievable goal in mind," Rubio told Fox News Channel on Tuesday following a public hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which Rubio sits.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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