Members of Congress say they’re looking for answers–and a clear strategy forward–from President Obama as his administration begins making its case to Congress for a military strike against Syria.
The president said Saturday he would seek congressional authorization before moving forward with strikes in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons and Sarin gas, which the administration says killed more than 1,400 civilians.
This morning, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with House and Senate leaders and members of congressional Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, and both House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi exited the meeting saying they would support strikes. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also said in a statement he intends to vote to authorize the military action.
Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey will before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Kerry and Hagel will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. A vote on whether to authorize strikes is expected next week, when members return from recess.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told guest host Kristen Welker on Tuesday’s The Daily Rundown he was undecided on how he would vote, but he needed more answers first on how strikes were in the best national security interests of the U.S.
“Really, what is the main goal? What are the specific objectives? What are the strategies to achieve those objectives. Quite honestly, are we prepared for the repercussions?” said Johnson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Are we really committed to the fallout from action? There’s so many unanswered questions. What’s unfortunate, I have not heard the administration, from my mind, make the real case of why this is in the national security interests of America.”
A key question, Johnson said, is what would happen to Syrian chemical weapons in the event of a U.S. strike.
“From my standpoint, it’s because of those chemical weapons stockpiles–we have rebel forces now infiltrated by al Qaeda,” said Johnson. “What would happen if those chemical weapons fell in the hands of al-Qaeda-backed rebels?”
But with the pause to wait for debate on the issue when Congress, Johnson said the impetus is now on Obama to convince legislators.
“The problems in Syria, the horrific humanitarian disaster has been occurring for two and a half years. America has basically sat on the sidelines. This president has not informed the American public about how this is in the national security interests,” said Johnson. “Because we lost the element of surprise, I think it’s appropriate that President Obama now comes to Congress, but he’s got to make the case.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said on The Daily Rundown that he, too, wanted the administration to present a clear case before making a decision, but underscored he needed to be convinced in today’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing and classified briefing.
“I think it is important for our credibility in the region and world for us to act, but I first need to be convinced that the intelligence is there and is sound and that the administration has thought carefully about the strategy going forward because there will inevitably be responses to attacks,” said Coons.
The Democratic senator said he was “inclined to support the president, but needed “to be persuaded.”
“I don’t think we can foresee exactly how far this conflict will go,” said Coons. “We need to recognize the president has the constitutional authority in exigent authority when he doesn’t have time to consult with Congress to take action he deems vital for the United States. For this debate right now, I suspect we will narrow it and that’s the authorization that will likely be taken up next week.”