Obama Bets On Delay and Diplomacy

Sep 11, 2013 8:56am
ap obama syria kb 130910 16x9 608 Obama Bets On Delay and Diplomacy

Evan Vucci/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)

NOTABLES

  • OBAMA PLEADS HIS CASE ON SYRIA: ‘I BELIEVE WE SHOULD ACT’: Stymied by lagging public opinion and an 11th-hour diplomatic curveball, President Obama last night argued that he still needs congressional authorization for military strikes against Syria even though it’s possible he may not have to use it, ABC’s DEVIN DWYER and JONATHAN KARL report. “America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act,” Obama said during a rare prime-time televised address to the nation. At the same time, the president said he is willing to explore a new Russian diplomatic proposal to neutralize Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons, effectively hitting the pause button on an aggressive push for a vote this month that would allow him to launch a military strike on Syria. “I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to met his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin,” Obama said. He said the administration was drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution that would require Assad to unilaterally disarm and destroy his chemical weapons. http://abcn.ws/1eDnEK3
  • A VOTE DELAYED: President Obama asked Congress yesterday to delay a vote on whether to authorize military strikes against Syria, telling senators that the United States would not take military options off the table but would wait until a new round of diplomacy with Syria and Russia could play out, ABC’s JEFF ZELENY and ARLETTE SAENZ note. With skepticism rising in Congress over Syria, the president spent more than two hours in rare closed-door meetings with senators. He said he was approaching the latest diplomatic effort with “hopeful skepticism,” reprising a line from Ronald Reagan that he would “trust, but verify.” The president urged Congress to give him “more room,” a blunt acknowledgement that the vocal opposition from Congress was creating deep complications and a failed vote would weaken the standing of the United States. He said it was critical that the threat of military strikes remain in place, or diplomacy would not succeed, a position that he echoed in his address to the nation last night. http://abcn.ws/15UbCE6
  • SEPT. 11, 2001 REMEMBERED: Today is the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. To mark the occasion, President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden will gather on the South Lawn of the White House to observe a moment of silence. Later in the morning, Obama will travel to the Pentagon Memorial to attend the September 11th Observance Ceremony. And in the afternoon, the president will participate in a service project in the Washington, DC area to commemorate the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance.

 

THE SYRIA SCOREBOARD by the ABC News Political Unit:

THE SENATE: http://abcn.ws/18rMbwx

SUPPORT MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 22

LIKELY TO SUPPORT MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 2

OPPOSE MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 31

LIKELY TO OPPOSE: 6

UNDECIDED: 39

 

THE HOUSE: http://abcn.ws/1a99GwE

SUPPORT MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 20

LIKELY TO SUPPORT: 23

OPPOSE MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 116

LIKELY TO OPPOSE: 138

UNDECIDED: 125

UNKNOWN: 11

 

THE ROUNDTABLE

ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Not to be lost in the Syria swirl, and the end of a New York City sideshow, a pair of recall elections against two little-known state lawmakers might have been the biggest political development of a busy day. The state senators had supported new gun-control laws, in bluish-though-still-gun-loving Colorado. Their races became national testing grounds for the National Rifle Association and gun-control forces, and the NRA scored two big victories. It doesn’t change the balance of power in the state legislature. But it does have the potential to settle a debate over the politics of gun control. The promise offered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group and others was that lawmakers who stand up against guns won’t have to worry about their jobs. That’s no longer a promise they can keep, and that’s a message that will be heard in state houses and congressional districts across the country.

ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: President Obama’s speech is unlikely to change many minds on Syria, but it did buy him time. And it diffused — or, at least, delayed — the prospect of a dramatic defeat in Congress. His twofold message to senators: Don’t undercut our military options and keep the threat of force on the table. But if the diplomatic dance with Russia and Syria fails, there’s still no guaranteed fall-back plan in the president’s back pocket. The Syria debate could simply fade away as abruptly as it arrived on Capitol Hill, which is the quiet preference of many senators we’ve spoken to. But if diplomacy fails sooner rather than later, even an alternative resolution could have trouble passing a Congress filled with Syria skeptics whose ranks are growing with every passing

 

BUZZ

OBAMA MAKES THE CASE. President Obama has been trying to thread the diplomatic needle all week, seeking to preserve American and international credibility on chemical weapons with a tough line against Assad while simultaneously convincing the American public that he doesn’t want a wider war and would actually prefer a diplomatic solution, ABC’s DEVIN DWYER and JONATHAN KARL note. Last night, he sought to directly address popular concerns about military action, giving answers to questions he received in letters from average Americans. He denied that U.S. intervention would be anything like Iraq or Afghanistan, calling it a “limited” strike to send a message, not take out a dictator. He dismissed concerns about possible retaliation from Assad, saying the Syrian military could not “seriously threaten our military” or allies. Obama said he ultimately concluded that the use of chemical weapons in Syria represents a unique case that requires American leadership on a global level. “The world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war,” he said. “As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them,” he said. “Over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.” http://abcn.ws/1eDnEK3

ANALYSIS: PRESIDENT OBAMA FINDS LIMITS OF POWERS OF PERSUASION. In a debate that’s brought strange bedfellows, this is hard to top: President Obama is now hoping that Vladimir Putin saves him from his own Congress, ABC’s RICK KLEIN writes. The president last night offered virtually no new arguments and little fresh urgency in his push to confront Syria over chemical weapons. The only short-term option is the one supplied by the Russians, in a dizzying series of events that brought quick recalculations on the part of the White House. The prime-time address underscored the extent to which the president is stuck in a box he constructed. It capped an extraordinary 10-day span during which Obama tested the limits of his own powers of persuasion — and then found them, promptly and uncomfortably. “I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path,” the president said, citing what he called “encouraging signs” in the proposal to rid Assad of chemical weapons. But the real reason the president doesn’t want to go to Congress now is that he can’t. A vote on authorizing force against Syria would be defeated handily, weakening the president to a degree the White House can’t stomach. MORE ANALYSIS: http://abcn.ws/18O8Sez

HILLARY CLINTON DISCUSSES SYRIA, PARTISANSHIP (BUT CAN’T AVOID 2016). Just over an hour before President Obama spoke to the nation, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the president’s call for a “strong response” to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but acknowledged that the debate over the issue is “good for our democracy,” ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. “The Assad regime’s inhuman use of lethal chemicals against men, women, and children … violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order,” she said at the National Constitution Center, where she was honored and awarded the organization’s Liberty Medal. She again voiced her support for the president’s position, saying the situation in Syria “demands a strong response from the international community led by the United States.” “This debate is good for our democracy. As our founders knew, fervent arguments are the lifeblood of self government. How could a republic last if citizens had no opinion of the issues of the day or were too intimidated to express them?” Clinton said. Clinton did not mention the possibility of Syria surrendering its chemical weapon stockpiles to international control as she did Monday at an event at the White House, nor did she explicitly say the words “military strike,” but said “it is natural and right in a democracy for us to debate, for us to disagree, forcefully even.” http://abcn.ws/16j66zj

–JEB JOKES: The event did have its light moments including a speech by the Chairman of the National Constitution Center and another possible 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. “Hillary and I come from different political parties, and we disagree about a few things, but we do agree on the wisdom of the American people, especially those in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina,” Bush, former Republican governor of Florida, said with a chuckle, noting more seriously that Clinton has “devoted her life to public service.” Clinton mentioned former President Bill Clinton’s close relationship with former President George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush’s father, calling them the “classic odd couple of American politics,” and noting they “just had one of their annual playdates.” http://abcn.ws/16j66zj

REJECTED: NEW YORK CITY VOTERS JUST SAY ‘NO’ TO SPITZER, WEINER. It was a rollercoaster ride for New York City voters, but last night they chose to jump off, ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP reports. Democratic voters went to the polls and rejected the comeback bids of former Rep. Anthony Weiner and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer after Democratic primary races that made the city the spectacle of the nation. In the end, voters opted for the candidates with less tabloid appeal — New York City public advocate Bill De Blasio in the race for mayor and Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, who won the comptroller race. Weiner, who launched a bid to replace New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg after resigning from Congress for sexting women online, saw his political fortunes tumble so precipitously it was hard to believe that months ago he was a front runner in the contest. Weiner, trailed far behind in votes, conceded the race Tuesday night. “We have the best message. Sadly, I’m an imperfect messenger,” he told supporters. De Blasio may still face a runoff, but his rise in the polls was fueled by the fall of Weiner, whose campaign imploded after it was revealed that he continued having inappropriate sexual relationships with women online, even after resigning from Congress in disgrace for similar behavior in 2011. http://abcn.ws/1efv3kZ

HOUSE GOP DEVISES PLOY TO FORCE SENATE VOTE TO DEFUND OBAMACARE. House Republicans will attempt to use a vote this week on a stop-gap measure to fund the government to simultaneously compel the Senate to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON reports. While the Democratic-led Senate is unlikely to defund the health care law, Republicans appear keen on putting vulnerable senators on the record in support of the controversial health care overhaul. “Our goal here is not to shut down the government. Our goal is to cut spending and to stop Obamacare,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said during a news conference at the Capitol yesterday. “This strategy is intended not to really satisfy the House. We’ve already voted. It’s to force the vote and force the fight in the United States Senate. That’s where the issue is, the United States Senate. Let’s get the issue over there and force them to actually have a vote on getting rid of Obamacare.” http://abcn.ws/15PvnDU

–THE MECHANICS: First, this week the House will simultaneously consider a Continuing Resolution at sequester spending levels, $988 billion, and a resolution that would amend the CR to include defunding language, according to a House Republican leadership aide. That vote on passage of the CR also incorporates passage of a House Concurrent Resolution to defund the law. Upon passage, the House clerk would send the defunding language to the Senate, but the rule for the CR/Defund package provides that the CR would not be transmitted to the Senate until the Senate holds a vote on the defunding language. If the Senate passes a defunding resolution, then it gets added to the spending bill as it goes to the president.  If the Senate defeats it, then the Senate could consider whether it wants t to pass the CR on its own. If it succeeds without the amendment, it goes to the president. http://abcn.ws/15PvnDU

NOTED: DCCC CHAIR CITES SYRIA AS INCONSEQUENTIAL IN 2014 ELECTIONS. Syria won’t be a major issue in the 2014 midterm elections, Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said yesterday, according to ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP. “[Next year] is not going to be a referendum on Syria,” Israel, D-N.Y., told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington. It “will be a referendum on solutions, on who is willing to get things done and who clung to partisanship and extremism. “Syria will not be the subject of a referendum in 2014,” he added. Israel said repeatedly that the DCCC has no official position on whether members should support the resolution but, as a member himself, he said he would support the Senate’s version of the resolution to strike Syria, if there is a vote in the Senate at all. http://abcn.ws/15gLdVD

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

BENGHAZI’S LESSONS: WHAT’S CHANGED A YEAR AFTER AMBASSADOR CHRIS STEVENS’ DEATH? One year after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, former Diplomatic Security Service special agent Fred Burton says there was never any question among security agents on the ground in Libya that it was a terrorist attack. “The agents knew they were under terrorist attack the moment the first round was fired,” Burton tells “Top Line’s” RICK KLEIN. “They relayed that from the tactical operations center back to the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, and it was messaged immediately back to Foggy Bottom, to the State Department Operations Center.” Burton, along with co-author Samuel Katz, offers a blow-by-blow account of the Benghazi consulate attack in the new book “Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi.” While there has been a narrative in Washington that the highest levels of the State Department, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, denied proper backup assistance to the diplomatic team in Benghazi, Burton says “it’s unfair to criticize a lot of cabinet-level officials.” WATCH: http://yhoo.it/18PesNY

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

“COLORADO SENATE PRESIDENT JOHN MORSE, STATE SEN. ANGELA GIRON OUSTED,” by The Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels, Kurtis Lee and Joey Bunch. “An epic national debate over gun rights in Colorado on Tuesday saw two Democratic state senators ousted for their support for stricter laws, a ‘ready, aim, fired’ message intended to stop other politicians for pushing for firearms restrictions. Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron will be replaced in office with Republican candidates who petitioned onto the recall ballot. Party insiders always said Giron’s race was the harder one. Although her district is heavily Democratic, Pueblo is a blue-collar union town. Morse’s district included Manitou Springs and a portion of Colorado Springs — and more liberals. ‘It has been an honor to represent the 11th Senate District,’ Morse said in his concession speech. ‘It’s been hugely rewarding.’ Giron conceded about 10:45 p.m., telling supporters ‘this will make us stronger.’ She said she had no regrets about the votes she had taken that led to her recall. ‘I’m a fighter,’ she said. ‘We will win in the end, because we are on the right side.’ … The National Rifle Association, which donated about $360,000 to support the recalls, hailed Morse’s loss, telling The Denver Post it ‘is proud to have stood with the men and women in Colorado who sent a clear message that their Second Amendment rights are not for sale.’” http://bit.ly/18Tg1sX

 

WHO’S TWEETING?

@markknoller: A bell tolls 3 times as the Obamas & Bidens stand silenty with heads bowed on the South Lawn. Then hands on hearts as Taps is sounded.

‏@leezeltanglao: One #WorldTradeCenter Rises in 90 Seconds http://abcn.ws/18PliTq 

@GovernorOMalley: Always grateful for the courage and sacrifices of our servicemembers, first responders and all those who keep us safe. Even more so today.

@AriFleischer: On this day especially, but on every day, may God bless America.

@JHoganGidley: “We have no set nat’l security interests bc the 2 sides of this conflict are both enemies of the US,” @RickSantorum via @CrossfireCNN #Syria

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