White House takes Syria push to the airwaves

Updated
A Free Syrian Army fighter sits on a lookout for forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Ogiwl, Aleppo, September 8, 2013.
A Free Syrian Army fighter sits on a lookout for forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Ogiwl, Aleppo, September 8, 2013.
: Hamid Khatib/Reuters

Denis McDonogh, the White House chief of staff, made the Sunday morning talk-show rounds in the administration’s effort to convince a skeptical Congress to approve the president’s proposal for military strikes against Syria.

“We have a very narrow issue here, which is the use of dastardly weapons,” McDonough said on Meet the Press, adding that the president has little doubt that Assad ordered chemical attacks against civilians last month.

McDonough steered clear of speculation on what would happen if Congress did not authorize the use of force, and insisted that the administration would be enforcing the red line on the use of chemical weapons.

“Victory means that he is degraded from doing it again and deterred from doing it again,” he said.

After Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz said that intervention in Syria would mean supporting opposition forces with connections to Al Qaeda on ABC’s This Week, McDonough said that he was “outraged for somebody to suggest that our people would be serving as allies to Al Qaeda.”

The world will also hear from President Assad on Monday night; CBS host Charlie Rose said on Sunday that he had interviewed Assad and that Assad denied any connection to the chemical weapons attack of August 21, although he would not confirm or deny that his regime had such weapons.

Rose said Assad “does accept some of the responsibility” for the chemical weapons attack, but that Assad did not appear to feel deeply about the deaths. “It was much more of a calm recitation of anybody who’s a leader of a country would feel terrible about what’s happened to its citizens.”

Obama will do interviews with the three network news programs on Monday and will make his case for military action to the American public on Tuesday night. His case could be bolstered by videos obtained by NBC news from a US government source depicting people suffering from symptoms the source says are the result of a chemical weapons attack. These videos were shown to members of the Senate during closed-door briefings last week and provide gruesome images from Syria’s civil war.

While the government official also said that the time and exact location of many of the videos have been verified, UN weapons inspectors have not yet confirmed U.S. findings of a chemical weapons attack. NBC News has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of these videos.

The videos should “make it clear to people this is not just something abstract,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, and that a strike is necessary to emphasize that chemical weapons are “unacceptable to anybody, anywhere, by any standards.”

Meanwhile, in Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Middle East leaders who condemned Assad, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported. French officials, who had initially backed U.S. military action, also urged President Obama to wait for the results of a UN investigation before moving forward with strikes.

It still looks likely that the Senate will pass the resolution approved in the Foreign Relations committee last week, but things are far less clear in the House, where both Democrats and Republicans have strongly opposed action. Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California said on Meet the Press that she is leaning towards voting no, and that without any pressing national security concern for the U.S., the nation should still go to the UN.

Rep Jim McGovern of Massachusetts pointed out on CNN’s State of the Union that adding Syria to the long list of things Congress “has to deal with” would be a mistake, and added the he doesn’t think the President will win the vote.

Rep. Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican who also opposed action, expressed skepticism that the limited strike Obama has proposed could be effective.

“Lobbing a few Tomahawk missiles will not restore our credibility overseas,” he said. Engagement with the international community, McCaul said, is the only way to truly remove Assad’s chemical weapons capability. Any action taken by Congress on the Syria resolution this week will happen in the shadow of the twelfth anniversary of 9/11.

Obama does have the support of two Republican House members who have been outspoken on national security issues. Rep. Peter King of New York said he would vote “yes” despite disagreeing with the way the president has approached things, a sentiment Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers echoed, calling the current situation “a confusing mess.”

Former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman of California characterized the dilemma facing Congress, particularly in the deeply divided House, in political terms.

“All these folks in both parties, especially in the House, are worried about getting primaried,” Harman told David Gregory. “They want it to pass, they just don’t want to vote for it.”

White House takes Syria push to the airwaves

Updated