President Obama said Tuesday he was “confident” he can get the votes needed from Congress to authorize a “limited” strike on Syria as his administration gears up to make its case for retaliating against President Bashar al-Assad this week.
“I’m confident that we’re going to be able to come up with something that hits the mark,” the president said Tuesday after meeting with Congressional leaders, as well as key administration officials, such as Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Though Obama will depart for Sweden Tuesday as he makes his way to Russia for the G-20 summit, which begins Thursday, his administration’s case for a strike begins in earnest on Capitol Hill this week even before Congress officially returns from recess. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. Kerry will also testify in front of House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
The Obama administration has said its intelligence shows Assad turned chemical weapons against his own people, representing “an assault on human dignity” and a threat to U.S. security and allies.
The administration scooped up support from the House Speaker, Republican John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who both attended the meeting.
“I believe my colleagues should support this call for action,” the Ohio lawmaker said. “We have enemies around the world that need to understand that we’re not gonna tolerate this type of behavior.”
Though Boehner’s and Cantor’s support is a coup for the White House, Obama still needs to win over several factions within Congress. On the left, that includes liberals who want to intervene for humanitarian reasons and doves who want no part of a military strike. On the Republican side, there are eager hawks, Rand Paul-like isolationists, realists resigned to an intervention of some kind–and probably some conservatives who would support a strike, were it not for the Democrat asking them to.
A Washington Post analysis showed a substantial number of lawmakers remained undecided on how they’ll vote. That includes 59 senators and 94 House representatives. A vote authorizing military use in Syria is expected soon after Congress reconvenes after summer recess on Sept. 9.
Over the weekend, Obama’s military advisers met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Saturday and held a conference call with House Democrats on Sunday.
Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham who met with Obama on Monday afternoon, said afterwards that they were encouraged by the president’s strategy. The two leaders, who fall into the GOP Hawk category are considered crucial in swaying other Republicans, also said Obama needed to do a better job explaining his plan.
“We still have significant concerns,” McCain told reporters after the meeting. “But we believe there is in formulation a strategy to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army and to degrade the capabilities of Bashar Assad. Before this meeting, we had not had that indication.
Meanwhile, others like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan are opposed to any military engagement what-so-ever.
“I think the line in the sand should be that America gets involved when American interests are threatened. I don’t see American interests involved on either side of this Syrian war,” Paul told Meet The Press.
Breaking from Boehner and Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said he was undecided about U.S. intervention. “Absent a clear sense of what we must do, and what the mission is, it is impossible to formulate an appropriate and effective resolution authorizing the president to use military force against the Assad regime,” the California Republican said through a spokeswoman.
Similarly, Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn of California said she was not convinced the U.S., “ought to rush in and use military force in Syria.” She added to CNN, “I’m worried about what happens after we strike.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, falling in line with the president, has said she is in favor of the airstrikes. She said in a statement on Saturday that military action is “in our national security interest and in furtherance of regional stability and global security.”