(CNN) – Three top Obama officials underwent another round of questioning Wednesday in their effort to sway Congress to support the president's proposal for limited military strikes in Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey returned to the Hill, this time for a four-hour grilling by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
They took questions on whether American troops would be committed to the attack and how successful the punitive strikes would be in deterring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons again. The House hearing came one day after the three officials sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for three and a half hours on Tuesday,
Read: 5 things from the Senate hearing on Syria
While the House hearing was underway Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the authorization resolution in a 10-7 vote. It now moves to the Senate floor. Some 48 lawmakers in the House and the Senate now say they can get behind Obama. But about three-fourths remain undecided or haven't announced how they plan to vote.
4:20 p.m. ET – At just over four hours, the House hearing adjourns.
4:18 p.m. ET – "I don't believe we're going to war. I just don't believe it," Kerry says, addressing concerns that a strike against Syria could be a slippery slope. "That's not what we're doing here. The president is asking for permission to take a limited military action, yes, but one that does not put Americans in the middle of the battle–no boots on the ground."
4:15 p.m. ET – Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, says if the vote were held today, he would vote "yes."
Almost done. This is last member to ask questions at House Syria hearing.—
Lisa Desjardins (@AskLisaD) September 04, 2013
4:12 p.m. ET – Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Florida, asked the panel to explain how Syria's use of chemical weapons is worse than its use of conventional weapons, which have killed more people there. It's a question CNN asked itself last week and found that many experts believe chemical weapons are different because of the torturous deaths and injuries they cause.
4:08 p.m. ET -
4 p.m. ET – Several congressmen seem concerned with the veracity of the Obama administration's intelligence indicating that Syria has deployed chemical weapons. They're not alone. Journalists are gun shy, too, after the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction fiasco. The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone discussed the media's caution with CNN last month.
3:49 p.m. ET – Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, asks what precedent does the U.S. establish if it doesn't act.
"We'd be walking away from responsibility," Kerry says. "It would have a profound impact on people's judgments of what we're willing to stand up for and what we're not willing to stand up for."
3:44 p.m. ET –
3:42 p.m. ET – Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, brings up Benghazi. Kerry says it's "not a backburner issue."
"In an appropriate setting, I'd be delighted to share with you exactly what is going on," Kerry says, adding it's a priority for the administration.
3:35 p.m. ET –
Hundreds of calls to our Provo and Washington DC office. So far not a single call in favor of bombing Syria—
Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) September 04, 2013
3:34 p.m. ET – Perry asks if the president will abide by Congress' decision, whether they vote for or against the authorization.
Kerry says he can't answer for the president, but Obama has made it clear that he maintains the right to act unilaterally.
3:32 p.m. ET – Scott Perry, R- Pennsylvania, asks Kerry if he considers sarin gas a weapon of mass destruction. Kerry says "yes." Perry asks about VX gas. Kerry says "yes."
"Ok, so, those two were used in Iraq, found in Iraq before I got there and found in Iraq when I got there–for those who say the past administration lied about weapons of mass destruction," Perry says.
3:27 p.m. ET – BREAKING: CNN's Ted Barrett reports the authorization passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The final vote was 10-7 with one senator voting present.
No votes were:
Tom Udall, D-New Mexico
Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut
James Risch, R-Idaho
Marco Rubio, R-Florida
Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin
John Barrasso, R-Wyoming
Rand Paul, R-Kentucky
Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts (Kerry's successor)
3:23 p.m. ET – On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has started holding a final vote on the resolution.
3:14 p.m. ET – Rep. George Holding, R- North Carolina, asks Dempsey if Russia would be capable or willing to strike the U.S. in retaliation for the U.S. using force in Syria, a close ally of Russia. Dempsey says "it would not be helpful in this setting to speculate about that," adding that's something they can discuss in a classified setting.
Kerry points to Russia's foreign minister, who has indicated they're not willing to go to war over Syria.
3:05 p.m. ET – A lot of questions are being asked about the U.S. endgame and how America hopes to achieve it. Maj. Gen. James Marks spoke to CNN's Piers Morgan last month about that very issue. He, too, seemed to think the overall objective was being omitted.
3 p.m. ET – Calling his decision a "miracle of miracles," Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, says he supports the president's proposal to take action in Syria. The freshman congressman is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cotton says he would also like to see a regime change.
2:57 p.m. ET – Though Dempsey is downplaying the possibility of a Hezbollah or Syria retaliatory strike on U.S. assets abroad, CNN reported this week that the U.S. had beefed up security ahead of a possible Syria strike.
2:54 p.m. ET – Rep. Adam Kinzinger , R-Illinois, discusses Obama critics' assertion that attacking Syria will make the U.S. "al Qaeda's air force." CNN's Nic Robertson earlier this year looked into reports that the strongest rebel group had ties to the terror organization.
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2:37 p.m ET –
2:37 p.m. ET – Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina, also slams the Obama administration for being quick to want to intervene in Syria, but was "reluctant" to act quickly to rescue the four Americans who died in the terrorist attack against a U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year. Duncan questions whether the "power of the executive branch is so intoxicating" to steer Kerry away from his normally cautious self and pull the trigger "so quickly."
Kerry, clearly aggravated, takes issue with Duncan's premise that Kerry routinely advocates caution. "I volunteered to fight for my country, and that wasn't a cautious thing to do when I did it."
When Duncan tries to interrupt, Kerry shoots back: "I'm going to finish, congressman."
"When I was in the United States Senate, I supported military action in any number of locations, including Grenada, Panama, I could run a list of them. I am not going to sit here and be told by you I don't have a sense of what the judgment is with respect to this. We're talking about people being killed by gas, and you want to go talk about Benghazi and Fast and Furious."
Duncan replies: "Absolutely I want to talk about it." He holds up a photo of one of the slain SEALs in Benghazi.
Kerry argues the Obama administration has been acting cautiously, which is why the president waited until he had more evidence to make his decision.
"This is not about getting into Syria's civil war. This is about enforcing the principle that people shouldn't be allowed to gas their citizens with impunity," he says. "Let's draw the proper distinction here, congressman. We don't deserve to drag this into yet another Benghazi discussion when the real issue here is whether or not the Congress is going to stand up for international norms."
2:28 p.m. ET – Rep. Tom Marino,R- Pennsylvania, asks if Hagel trusts the opposition forces in Syria. Hagel says it's "not his business to trust–"
Marino interrupts, "Well certainly it has to be in the business because you're making decisions to go into war and put American lives at risk, so it's a simple concept: you either trust or do not trust."
He wants to know what will be gained by U.S. intervention and if a military strike would actually stop the killing. At least one expert, Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics, has told CNN that U.S. involvement would only complicate and exacerbate" the situation.
2:24 p.m. ET -- While Kerry says he is hopeful that Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a productive talk, a story earlier today indicated that Putin would be open to a military strike if he is presented with data that Syria actually used chemical weapons.
2:22 p.m. ET – Dempsey elaborates on the risks of retaliation in the region of military strikes in response to a question from Rep. Karen Bass, D-California.
"There's both conventional risks, that would be if he chose to use some of his long range rockets to attack his neighbors or some of our facilities," he says. "There's also asymmetric. He could encourage some of the surrogates and proxies such as Lebanese Hezbollah to attack an embassy. There's actions that he could probably seek to achieve in cyber. We are alert to all possibilities and are mitigating strategies in the way we've positioned ourselves in the region."
2:14 p.m. ET - "There are more volunteers than we can use in this kind of operation," Kerry says, answering a question from Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, about how many countries are offering support.
2:09 p.m. ET –
2:06 p.m. ET – Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, asks Dempsey if the military has a contingency plan in case U.S. military action in the Middle East escalates into something bigger than a limited strike in Syria.
Dempsey responds: "Yes"
Poe: "Do you see escalation a possibility?"
Dempsey: "I can never drive the risk of escalation to zero, but I think the limited purpose, the partnership we have in the region...begin to limit that risk."
Poe asks Dempsey to elaborate on whether he's still concerned about removing Assad from power.
Dempsey: "I still am cautious about whether we should use U.S. military force in support of the opposition to tip the balance...I remain cautious about taking the opposition's role here in the civil war."
2 p.m. ET – Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Florida, asks why the U.S. should be the country leading this effort.
Kerry says the U.S. "is not being the world's policeman" and it's "joining other countries in upholding an international standard." He goes on to say the U.S. has a "greater capacity" to carry out such missions.
Deutsch also focused some of his remarks on American credibility, which was a recent topic of debate between experts from the Brookings Institution, the Hoover institution and a former commander of the USS Cole.
Kerry insisted America's goal was not regime change and assured the committee that there are moderate rebels committed to democracy. Here's a quick breakdown on what's at stake for the various players.
1:53 p.m. ET – Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, expresses concerns about retaliations against the U.S. by extremists, especially in light of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks next week.
There is a lot of talk about al Qaeda and the makeup of the rebels. Daniel Burke of CNN's Belief blog recently explained the roles various religions played in Syria's civil war.
1:48 p.m. ET – Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Virginia, says he believes the evidence "is convincing and compelling," but added "the overhang of Iraq has many of us chained." However, Connolly points out the differences between Iraq and Syria. For example, he says, the U.S. currently is "not dealing with perspective surmise about whether such weapons exist or whether or not he might use them...The question for us is what are we going to do about it?"
He goes on to ask if the U.S. does nothing, what is the likelihood that al-Assad will use chemical weapons as a routine weapon to turn the tide of the civil war.
Hagel replied: "I think the likelihood is very high."
SedDef Hagel on Syria: "This is an imperfect situation. There are no good options here."—
(@CapitolHillCNN) September 04, 2013
1:40 p.m. ET - Kerry says that if the U.S. does not act, "That would be one of those moments in history that would live in infamy."
"If we back off and give him a message of impunity, we will have said to him 'Nobody cares, gas your people, you do what you need to stay in office and we're backing off.' That would be one of those moments in history that will live in infamy. And there are those moments. Munich. A ship off coast of Florida that was sent back filled with Jews who then lost their lives to gas because we didn't receive them. There are moments where you have to make a decision, and I think this is one of those moments."
1:35 p.m. ET – Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, asks Kerry what made the president change his mind and seek Congressional approval.
"The president said he felt very, very strongly that it was important for us to be in our strongest posture, that the United States needed to speak with one voice," Kerry says. He added that Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, argued that it would look bad if the president was going against Congress, on top of U.S. allies and the United Nations. "We heard from you, and many of you said we think it's really important to come to Congress."
1:29 p.m. ET – Rep. Greg Meeks, D-New York, says he has very strong reservations about acting in Syria without military support from a broad international coalition. He asks Dempsey what will bring a solution to the crisis in Syria.
Dempsey says the purpose of the mission is not to take military action to favor the opposition but to degrade Assad's capacity for using chemical weapons agains. Dempsey says he can't say there's absolutely no risk of escalation that would require more U.S. military action, but he estimates that risk would be very low.
1:23 p.m. ET –
GOP Rep Chris Smith says he plans to introduce resolution creating a "Syrian war crime tribunal" to hold those accountable for crimes—
Deirdre Walsh (@deirdrewalshcnn) September 04, 2013
1:18 p.m. ET - Many members think the current resolution from the White House is too broad and does not rule out the potential for troops on the ground, nor does it give a timeline for how the U.S. will get out of the conflict after the strikes. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, tells Kerry the more narrow and carefully tailored the resolution is, the more likely it will succeed in the House,
1:11 p.m. ET – Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, asks if there will be boots on the ground. Kerry reiterates that the current resolution from the president does not allow for boots on the ground during the punitive strike. This was a big point of contention in Tuesday's Senate hearing.
1:09 p.m. ET – Hagel says there's no long-term military solution in Syria. "It's going to require a political solution."
1:03 p.m. ET – Could there be competing resolutions between the House and the Senate?
CNN Senior Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh reports that two House Democrats–Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Gerald Connolly –drafted this alternative resolution language, which is similar to Senate language and began circulating it last night. A senior House Democratic leadership aide said it’s still unclear how the process will work for the House resolution. They are aware of this language, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer are not endorsing it yet.
A senior GOP leadership aide echoed that, saying the process is unclear and it's to be determined whether the House will vote on the Senate resolution or come up with its own version. The aide said its likely the House will wait to see what the Senate does, but won't rule out a vote on something different.
1:00 p.m. ET – Royce asks what other governments are telling the U.S. in terms of their support.
Kerry says the U.S. has reached out to over 100 countries. "Fifty-three countries or organizations have acknowledged that chemical weapons were used, and 37 have said so publicly," he says. "That will grow as the evidence we released yesterday becomes more prevalent."
He says he'll meet with 28 foreign ministers of Europe on Saturday. In addition, 31 countries or organizations have stated publicly the Assad regime was responsible for this attack, Kerry says. Thirty-four countries or organizations have indicated that if the allegations turn out to be true, they would support some form of action against Syria, Kerry adds.
"A number of countries in the region, friends of ours, have offered to be part of this operation," he says, though adding that the U.S. military believes it has more offers of help than it needs to carry out the mission.
12:55 p.m. ET – Hagel: "The Assad regime, under increasing pressure by the Syrian opposition, could feel empowered to carry out even more devastating chemical weapons attacks. Chemical weapons make no distinction between combatants and innocent civilians, and inflict the worst kind of indiscriminate suffering, as we have recently seen."
12:53 p.m. ET -- Hagel: "General Dempsey and I have assured the President that U.S. forces will be ready to act whenever the President gives the order. We are also working with our allies and partners in this effort. Key partners, including France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other friends in the region, have assured us of their strong support for U.S. action."
Some Western governments are preparing for the possibility of a strike on Syria following reports of a suspected chemical attack on a Damascus suburb. While many options are being considered, some officials say limited missile strikes are a likely possibility. Click here to find some of the U.S. and allied forces in the region surrounding Syria.
12:48 p.m. ET - Hagel: "As a former Senator and member of this committee, I welcome this debate and I strongly support President Obama's decision to seek congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria."
12:47 p.m. ET --
12:47 p.m. ET – Kerry: "This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to a slaughter....Neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence."
12:42 p.m. ET – CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash reports the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will mark up the resolution at 2 p.m. ET. Sen. John McCain plans to propose an amendment.
12:42 p.m. ET – Hagel and Dempsey just arrived at the House hearing, while Kerry is still giving his opening statements. Hagel and Dempsey were giving a classified briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning.
12:39 p.m. ET – "The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting," Kerry says. He again says he can guarantee "a far greater likelihood of conflict in the future" if the U.S. doesn't act. "We know Assad will read our silence, our unwillingness to act, as a signal that he can use his weapons with impunity."
Kerry adds the U.S. intelligence community can prove Assad has used chemical weapons at least 11 times.
A former U.N. weapons inspector explained Tuesday to CNN how "signatures of sarin" can be identified and how reliable testing and sampling can be.
12:34 p.m. ET – John Kerry reiterates the argument that the "red line" on chemical weapons was not just drawn by Obama, but by Congress, as well. Kerry says the world is watching to see whether "the United States will consent through silence." Obama said the same thing earlier in the day in Sweden.
12:31 p.m. ET - John Kerry: "I can tell you beyond a reasonable doubt the evidence proves the Assad regime prepared this attack."
Sarin–a clear, tasteless and odorless nerve agent–is one of the most toxic chemical weapons. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, said a fraction of an ounce of sarin on a person's skin could be fatal.
"It can be absorbed across the skin, it can be absorbed into the lungs, across the eyes. It's pretty gruesome stuff," he said on CNN's "Piers Morgan Live." "It is so indiscriminate...So you don't even know that you've been exposed, necessarily, until you suddenly start to get sick. And then, it starts pretty quickly and can degrade pretty quickly as well."
12:28 p.m. ET –
12:27 p.m. ET – John Kerry: "We're here because a dictator and his family's enterprise...were willing to infect the air of Damascus that killed innocent mothers and fathers and children...during the early morning hours of August 21."
Kerry announced Sunday that blood and hair samples from eastern Damascus, Syria, "tested positive for signatures of sarin" gas. Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the U.S. obtained the samples independently from "first responders" and through an "appropriate chain of custody"," not from the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors. Read more.
12:21 p.m. ET – Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the committee, gives his opening statement, saying he supports the president's proposal to take action but does not favor giving the president a "blank check." He argues American troops must not be committed to Syria, and the U.S. should redouble its efforts to help the opposition. "If we do not pass the authorization, what message will Assad get?"
Engel appeared on CNN two days ago, explaining the so-called "red line" and the difference between the situations in Syria and Iraq.
12:20 p.m. ET – Chairman Ed Royce: "Over a year ago, President Obama drew a “red-line” – yet only last week did the Administration begin to consult with Congress on what that means.
Today, the House begins formal consideration of the President’s request to use military force in Syria. It’s a cliché, but true: there are no easy answers. Syria and much of the Middle East are a mess. So we look forward to a through and deliberate discussion today, one reflecting the gravity of this issue."
12:19 p.m. ET – Chairman Ed Royce: "There are concerns. The President promises a military operation in Syria of limited scope and duration. But the Assad regime would have a say in what happens next. That’d be particularly true as President Obama isn’t aiming to change the situation on the ground. What are the chances of escalation? Are different scenarios accounted for? If our credibility is on the line now, as is argued, what about if Assad retaliates? Americans are skeptical of getting near a conflict that, as one witness has noted, is fueled by 'historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues.'"
12:17 p.m. ET – Committee Chairman Ed Royce reads his opening statements: "This Committee has no greater responsibility than overseeing the deployment and use of the United States Armed Forces. Since the Administration of President John Adams, Congress has acted several times to authorize the use of military force by the President. One thing different here is that the Administration’s proposal supports a U.S. military response against a country in civil war. Needless to say, this complicates the consideration."
12:15 p.m. ET – Kerry walks in to the committee room. Hagel and Dempsey are not with him.
11:54 a.m. ET –
11:54 a.m. ET –
11:47 a.m. ET – About a half dozen protesters stand silently with signs in the House Foreign Affairs Committee room, about 15 minutes before the hearing is scheduled to start. One woman has pink tape over her mouth, while others hold signs that read "U.S. out of Syria." They hold their hands out, showing pink-painted palms. After an officer speaks with them, they sit back down.
The Senate hearing on Tuesday was interrupted at least two times by demonstrators opposing U.S. action in Syria.
11:17 a.m ET –
I am deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in Syria. I am not yet convinced of a compelling & vital national interest.—
Rep. Cory Gardner (@repcorygardner) September 04, 2013
11 a.m. ET – Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Edward R. Royce Chairman, California
Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida
Dana Rohrabacher, California
Steve Chabot, Ohio
Joe Wilson, South Carolina
Michael T. McCaul, Texas
Ted Poe, Texas
Matt Salmon, Arizona
Tom Marino, Pennsylvania
Jeff Duncan, South Carolina
Adam Kinzinger, Illinois
Mo Brooks, Alabama
Tom Cotton, Arkansas
Paul Cook, California
George Holding, North Carolina
Randy K. Weber Sr., Texas
Scott Perry, Pennsylvania
Steve Stockman, Texas
Ron DeSantis, Florida
Trey Radel, Florida
Doug Collins, Georgia
Mark Meadows, North Carolina
Ted S. Yoho. Florida
Luke Messer, Indiana
Eliot L. Engel Ranking Member, New York
Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, American Samoa
Brad Sherman, California
Gregory W. Meeks, New York
Albio Sires, New Jersey
Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia
Theodore E. Deutch, Florida
Brian Higgins, New York
Karen Bass, California
William Keating, Massachusetts
David Cicilline, Rhode Island
Alan Grayson, Florida
Juan Vargas, California
Bradley S. Schneider, Illinois
Joseph P. Kennedy III, Massachusetts
Ami Bera, California
Alan S. Lowenthal, California
Grace Meng, New York
Lois Frankel, Florida
Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii
Joaquin Castro, Texas
10:59 a.m. ET – Heritage Action for America, a conservative political advocacy group, announces it also opposes military action in Syria.
“Heritage Action is opposed to punitive missile strikes on the Syrian regime," Dan Holler, the group's communications director, said in a statement. "Yesterday’s hearing made it clear there is not a vital U.S. interest at stake. Further, there is not a clear, achievable, realistic purpose to the use of force being contemplated by the Obama administration and officials offered little evidence such action would prevent further abuses.”
10:58 a.m. ET -- The Progressive Change Campaign Committee announces it's sending a memo to members of Congress, including those whom the PCCC campaigned for, saying the progressive base overwhelmingly opposes military strikes Syria. According to a survey of its members, 73% of progressive respondents were not in favor of the president's proposal for punitive action, while 18% supported the president's decision.
"You now face a decision that involves life and death. This decision also involves billions of dollars. And it will send a signal to your constituents and the world about our nation’s morals and our ability to make strategic, goal-oriented decisions. This historic moment must transcend political party," Adam Green and Stephanie Taylor, the group's co-founders, say in the memo. "Your progressive base stands firmly against military action in Syria."
10:30 a.m. ET - Two new polls on Tuesday indicated that more people oppose rather than favor U.S. military strikes against Syria.
Both surveys were conducted before and after President Obama's Saturday announcement that he would seek Congressional approval.
According to the survey from ABC News/Washington Post, 36% of Americans support military strikes, while 59% oppose. Support for strikes increases to 46% if other countries, such as Great Britain and France, participated.
Separately, a Pew Research Center poll shows that 29% Americans oppose military action, while 48% are against launching strikes.
9:30 a.m. ET – The Senate Armed Services Committee gets classified briefing on the situation in Syria from Hagel and Dempsey.
9:09 a.m. ET - During a press conference in Sweden, President Obama says he didn't "set a red line–the world set a red line" on chemical weapons being used in Syria.
Flashback: Last August the president stated: "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is that we start to see a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized and that would change my calculus, and my equation."
8 a.m. ET – On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee takes up a revised bill authorizing a military strike - one that sets a 60-day deadline for use of force in Syria, with an option for an additional 30 days. More lawmakers may come on board with such a stipulation.