September 8th, 2013
04:49 PM ET
7 months ago

Lawmakers predict rocky future for Syria proposal

(CNN) – Several lawmakers argued Sunday that President Barack Obama has a steep uphill battle ahead in persuading Congress to support U.S. military action in Syria.

Citing concerns about funding, fears of escalated U.S. involvement and skepticism of the president's plan, Republicans and Democrats alike said they're not convinced the U.S. should launch military strikes.

'Sometimes friends can disagree'

Rep. Jim McGovern, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, said the support in Congress "isn't there" for Obama's proposal, and he urged the president to withdraw his authorization request.

"People view war as a last resort. I don't think people think that we're at that point," McGovern said on CNN's State of the Union. "I would step back a little bit. We have other issues we have to deal with in Congress."

The congressman argued he's "a big supporter of President Obama's" and backs him "on almost everything" but said "sometimes friends can disagree."

"This is not a question about party loyalty," he told Candy Crowley, CNN's chief political correspondent. "This is a question for all of us about what is right. This is a vote of conscience."

Republican Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said on the same program that he worries about funding an overseas mission. The California Republican has been pointing to the recent budgets cuts for the military, including the forced spending cuts – known in Washington as sequestration – that took effect earlier this year.

"We're asking them to do more with less," he said. "I think there's a moral responsibility that we have to our troops."

McKeon said he wants to sit down with the president to discuss military spending and argued, "if we can fix this, it may help some people in their vote."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, agreed, saying, "it's is immoral to continue to ask our men and women in the military to go out without the equipment, the training, the readiness and funds to do this."

She also takes issue with the proposal because she says it lacks clearly defined objectives.

"You need to know what that exit strategy is going to be. And I don't see that," she said on State of the Union.

'Once we're in, we're in'

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough sought to dispel concerns that military strikes in Syria would balloon into a long-term effort or a mission that requires boots on the ground.

"This is not Iraq or Afghanistan; this is not Libya," he said on CNN. "This is not an extended air campaign. This is something that's targeted and limited and effective so as to underscore that (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) should not think he can get away with this again."

House of Assad: Syria's shaky dynasty has survived on loyalty, brutality

Secretary of State John Kerry also repeatedly reiterated last week in two congressional hearings that boots would not be put on the ground in Syria.

Obama himself said Friday in a news conference he understands the skepticism but emphasized that the military response would be "limited" and "proportional" in both time and scope.

"What we're describing here would be limited and proportional and designed to address this problem of chemical weapons use and upholding a norm that helps keep all of us safe," he said.

But Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-California, said U.S. involvement in the war-torn country would be a slippery slope.

"The minute that one of those cruise missiles lands in there, we are in the Syrian war," she said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "So for the president to say this is just, you know, a very quick thing and we're out of there - that's how long wars start."

Rep. Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, also had a hard time believing U.S. involvement would be capped with the strikes.

"Once we're in, we're in. And once we hit, this is an act of war. Little wars start big wars, and we have to remember that," the Texas Republican said on "Meet the Press."

Waning support in the House

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a rewritten authorization measure last week that would prohibit sending U.S. military personnel into Syria and limit the scope of the attack. Lawmakers officially return to Capitol Hill on Monday from their monthlong summer break, and the Senate could vote on the resolution as early as Thursday or Friday - or it could drag into the weekend or next week.

How the Syria debate in Congress could play out this week

It's unclear when or whether the House will vote on the resolution, as Republican leaders have said they will act after the Senate. As of Sunday afternoon, 143 members of the House have said they plan to vote "no" on the authorization, while 25 plan to vote "yes," and a majority are still "undecided," according to CNN's latest count.

Two House Democrats who will vote yes said they don't believe the resolution will pass the House, even in a watered-down form that sets strict time limits and restricts military action. Both insisted on anonymity, arguing they do not want to add to the president's task by perhaps encouraging other representatives to vote no on the assumption it's over.

One of the representatives said the House "is just a disaster" for the president. The lawmaker also criticized the administration's messaging. "It's not a mixed message. It's a mixed message and incoherent arguments."

Obama faces steep climb in House on Syria

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wants to see Congress approve the president's proposal, but he also argued the administration has fumbled the ball when it comes to wooing Capitol Hill.

"I think it's very clear he's lost support in the last week," the Michigan Republican said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Rogers' comments on Sunday marked a stark contrast to the optimism he expressed a week ago, when he said on CNN he believed Congress would "rise to the occasion" and pass the president's proposal.

But Rogers now says the Obama administration has done an "awful job" in making its case, saying administration officials are not focusing enough on how Syria's ties with Iran could be potentially damaging to the United States.

He also criticized the president for traveling to the G20 summit in Russia last week without calling Congress back from recess to have a national security debate over whether to take military action in Syria.

"The way it happened was mystifying," Rogers said, referring to the president's proposal August 31 for congressional authorization. "He announced it and then left."

Troubling videos made public

Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday he would not have supported the president's original authorization language, but after the committee redrafted the authorization to make it more narrow, he's now in favor of taking action.

"I do think that we know what the consequences of inaction will be, that we know that Bashar al-Assad, one of the worst dictators who has used some of the worst weapons in American - in world history will continue to use cluster bombs and scud missiles and chemical weapons to massacre thousands of his own civilians," Coons said on State of the Union.

The Senate Intelligence Committee posted on its website Saturday night troubling videos of people dying in the aftermath of the August 21 chemical attack in a Damascus suburb. The same videos were shown in a classified setting last week to members of the Senate and were slated to be played Monday at a briefing for House members.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, said the videos, which were first shown to the public by CNN earlier Saturday, are "horrific" but don't "determine whether we should go to war."

"I've talked to my constituents, and they are overwhelmingly opposed to going to war," he told CNN. "I've been to the classified briefings, I know what the evidence is, and I think the case is not that strong right now."

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," McDonough argued "it's too early to come to any conclusion" about how Congress will vote.

The White House chief of staff, who took part in a series of TV interviews Sunday, said on CNN he has spoken with dozens of members of Congress and "not a single one rebuts or refutes the intelligence and the evidence."

The question they face, he said, is whether Syria's regime should "be held to account for carrying out this activity."

"If members of Congress want to answer that question, to say that there should be consequences for this action, then they're going to have to vote yes for the authorization," he said.

What if Congress votes 'no'?

Many of the undecided lawmakers may wait until Obama makes his case the American people Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET in a speech from the White House.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan, said Friday the president needs "to talk to the public, and lay out the facts as fully as he can." Levin has said he plans to vote "yes" on the authorization.

"This is gonna be a fireside chat, somewhat like it was in the '30s. I wasn't old enough to know, but one has to remember how difficult it was for President Roosevelt in World War II," Levin said Friday after a joint closed briefing for members on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said Sunday he was still weighing his options for stalling a vote in the full Senate on the use of force resolution. The Kentucky Republican said a filibuster could only delay a vote but wouldn't "put off a vote forever."

Instead, he said, he'd demand that any vote taken by Congress be binding, meaning that the president would be barred from striking Syria without congressional approval.

"The president cannot, if we vote him down, decide to go to war anyway. That's the way I interpret the Constitution," Paul said on "Fox News Sunday."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, told reporters he would be surprised if Obama went against Congress if they said "no."

"There are two sides to this. When he asked for Congress' consent, he was also asking for the American people's consent," he said. "But the flip side of that is if you don't get that consent, I think that it would be appropriate not to move forward."

– CNN's Candy Crowley, Emily Schmidt, Kevin Liptak, Paul Courson, Conor Finnegan, and Dan Merica contributed to this report.


Filed under: Congress • President Obama • Syria
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. don in albuquerque

    It must really be tough to be a member of the GOTP now. I mean you want a war, any war, but Pres. Obama now wants a war too.....and you ABSOLUTELY cannot agree with him. You must vote against him to keep him a two term president. Kind of took away the reason you get up and eat your Wheaties didn't it.

    September 8, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  2. Phyllis Gwendoline Williams

    "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the Sons of God...For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now..Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of The Children of God (Romans 8: 18-22)

    September 8, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  3. Name jk. Sfl. GOP conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Vote of conscience ????? A yes vote is a vote to back OUR president to take some action to stop a murderer,assed that gases his own citicians and children. A no vote tells assed and the world that its ok to use poison gas on you or anybody else. The GOP will vote for assed the murderer, what a suprise and a few coward dems will follow them!!!!!

    September 8, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  4. simplyput

    Due to her mishandling of Rwanda, Ms Rice swore she would *go down in flames* before she stood in the way of military intervention again. Why is the president listening to this woman, and how does her unfortunate experience in Rwanda color her advice to our President?

    September 8, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    All seem to have valid arguments, except Marsha Blackburn. She is too old to play "cupie doll" and offers nothing
    of substance to this discussion, or any other for that matter.
    If she is considers sending our troops "without equipment, training, readiness and funds" immoral, where was
    she at the begining of the Iraq war? That is exactly what happened.
    BTW, where did she get the idea that troops were going to be involved. I thought this was a certain
    no boots on the ground operation. She talks funny too.

    September 8, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  6. ThinkAgain

    The turmoil in Congress is precisely why Assad chose to use chemical weapons on his people. Bit of a "two-fer," actually: Take out his enemy and then watch the Repubs YET AGAIN do everything they can to block President Obama from taking appropriate action in response.

    Makes you wonder whose side the Repubs are on anyway ...

    September 8, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  7. cbp

    The biggest problem is the perception that this action will turn into another war. We have been pulled into skirmish after skirmish and we have been asked to support these wars such as Grenada and Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan. What we have not done is really taken the time to understand the real reasons for going to war. This time we know that the President of Syria used poisonous gas against his people including children. He is, of course, playing coy about his involvement but in a country like Syria could the army make the decisions on tis own.

    We signed a treaty against the use of poisonous gas. Do we stand by the treaty or do we let this pass? Countries allowed Germany get away with using gas and too many people died in the chambers. Do we allow this to happen or do we stand up and say no?

    Congress needs to decide this issue based on the facts and not on whether they like the President or not or if they feel he needed to play nice with them over the last five years. Is this a playground issue or are the people ready to represent their constituents

    September 8, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  8. Kelly

    So it seems that what the american leadership is saying is that they won't put american lives at risk but they eagerly kill any number of syrians without much moral wrestling. Yeah, that's the spirit, "don't worry, we'll only kill the syrians"...

    September 8, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  9. John Ragsdale

    Napalm, agent orange prre Obama; Gukantanamo Torture, Drones killing innocent men, women, children, spying on USA citizens, transparency a joke...and Obama who ran on peace..wants you to trust his next war. After six years he's a big flop. I'm mad as hell...because I voted for him.

    September 8, 2013 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  10. thomasd59

    wouldn't it be nice if we could take the politics out of politics.

    September 8, 2013 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  11. cbp

    The question remains. "Do we allow thee use of poison gas by a government on its people or any other people?" The treaty we signed says no to the use of poison gas. We know what the result is when the gas is used and how it effects people. We saw the children who were gassed. What more do we need to know. Syria has never been afraid to use unusual actions against its enemies. Israel knows that all too well. This time they used the gas against their own people.

    The only issue in front of Congress is the one that the President gave to them. We attacked Iraq which occurred because we were told that they had WMD's. That proved to be false, the President knew that it was false but attacked anyway. Did people ever bring him up before impeachment charges for lying to the people?

    September 8, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  12. michael

    I understand why GOP (Greed over People) party is dead set against this War, because they would look bad finding money to authorize it; after they have voted down every jobs bill and budget from this president saying we could not afford them! These warhawks have painted themselves, this president and all Americans in a corner where we cannot keep our international agreements and redlines! These same warhawks turned war activist would have started world war III, if Mccain or Romney were president! And the world including, GOP, and DEMS knows this to be true! All with the help and thanks of social media we have hypocrisy and non-accountability on a rampage!

    September 8, 2013 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  13. Evergreen

    All of this talk highlights the fact that our elected officials don't know what to do either. I think they would have been happier if the President had not included them in the decision making because now they have to work.

    September 8, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  14. ak_steve

    These "representatives" talked about how Obama defunded the military. What a bunch of liars – the Republicans defunded the military by DOING NOTHING and letting the sequester happen. So, stop lying and blaming your inability to do your job on the president.

    The GOP refusal to do anything about Syria has nothing to do with Syria. The never do what the president wants, even if it means the end of our own values.

    September 8, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  15. Name Bernat Beckman

    The administration, particularly Obama, has FAILED in every military policy. FAILED foreign policies with Friends and Foes alike around the world.
    Remember, it was Obama who opened diplomatic ties with Bashar to "to
    influence" diplomatic behavior in his first year in office. How did that work out
    for us?

    It was Obama that enabled the Muslim
    Brotherhood to grab power. The U.S.had
    long standing agreements with the
    Egyptian People, the Egyptian
    Government and the Egyptian Army.
    And yet, Obama ignored the Egyptian Governments' urgent pleas time and again, to facilitate an orderly transfer of power.
    Instead, Obama put forth the Muslim Brotherhood, an extreme Islamic sect that does not recognize nations or borders. The Brotherhood is dedicated to Islam not the Egyptian People.
    Obama knew his actions would literally put Egyptian women back in the 9th century as sub human to men.

    Obamas' legacy of failure is everywhere, home and abroad.

    Who in their own mind would consider following Obama to war

    September 8, 2013 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  16. vikingwoman

    I clearly recall how the GOTP was on Obama's behind to "do something about Syria" just 6 mo's ago! Now he's proposing something & it's a "rocky future"! Amid all this we have certain elements claiming they'll Impeach Obama if he doesn't get it right! To all this I say: passive-agressive prejudice & bigotry!! I don't agree that we should go into Syria unilaterally & find the UN to be chickens, even as they denounce al-Assad's behavior, but the GOTP's blatant hatred & disrespect for a sitting president is beyond the scope of what I expected in the year 2013! It's depressing & destructive to our nation in every manner you can think of!! Vote-2014!

    September 8, 2013 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  17. Fred Ricardo

    Let’s not kid ourselves. If the U.S. strikes the Syrian regime it will not be for humanitarian purposes. It will be for Israel.

    As for a limited strike, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of history knows the results of any military action are unpredictable. No one knows what the ramifications will be, but we can be sure there will be repercussions, possibly of disastrous proportions.

    The U.S. went to war in Viet Nam after the French were defeated; into Afghanistan after the Soviets were defeated; and into Iraq which appeared to be a push-over, and what has each of the intrusions brought us? Defeat, Death of our troops, debt and recession, and the world hates America..

    Another lesson of history is that an outsider cannot win a civil war.

    September 9, 2013 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  18. Cephus

    Both sides "Lawmakers predict rocky future for Syria proposal" based on maddow's manifesto from no news room.

    September 9, 2013 06:19 am at 6:19 am |