By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- ‘IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO SLEEPS IN THE WHITE HOUSE’: Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat who has been deeply skeptical of a military strike against Syria, said he would listen to his constituents before making a decision. And at a town meeting Thursday night in Kansas City, he got an earful, ABC’s JEFF ZELENY reports. For two hours Cleaver stood at the front of a crowded room and listened to one person after another urge him to oppose military action. He heard from the liberal left and the Tea Party right — all with the same message, which one man summed up succinctly: “My short answer to this is not no, but hell no.” So what will Cleaver do? As of now, he’s one of many House Democrats poised to vote no. Has anything in the administration’s argument been persuasive? “No,” he told ABC News after the meeting. “I listened to an official from the administration yesterday and while he was certainly powerful in his statements about why we should go alone, in terms of striking targets in Syria, I don’t think he said anything compelling.” When it comes to Syria, Cleaver ultimately said he has to treat President Obama like he would President Bush: “It doesn’t matter who sleeps in the White House,” he said.
- JEERS AND JEERS: Meanwhile in Arizona, Sen. John McCain’s town hall yesterday in Tucson was interrupted by jeers and anti-war chants, ABC’s RICK KLEIN notes. According to a dispatch from the Arizona Republic, police removed some disruptors, and a veteran walked out in the middle of a McCain answer when he didn’t like the case he was making on Syria: http://bit.ly/19nu7ES Another data point is the anecdotal evidence of voters making their views known through congressional offices. Several are reporting opposition to the war running at 99 percent or more. The Washington Post has rounded up some Tweets: http://wapo.st/17DASDr Voters, it appears, are speaking out — and not in the direction that President Obama needs them to be. If he plans on engaging the public on his effort to lobby Congress, he gave the other side (both the anti-war left and the anti-Obama right) a week’s head start.
- ADDRESS TO THE NATION COULD COME SOON: President Obama is considering a high-profile address to the nation on the need for military intervention in Syria — a speech that could come as early as this weekend — according to top lawmakers and administration officials, ABC’s DEVIN DWYER reports. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said today there is no speech planned at this point, but that Obama is looking at “multiple opportunities” to make the case directly to Congress and the American people. Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he has “no doubt” the president will make a speech from the Oval Office in the coming days. Obama is expected to return to Washington from Russia and the G-20 summit late tonight. His weekend schedule has not been announced. http://abcn.ws/18GaHZN
- SENATE TIMING: The first test vote on whether the president can use military force against Syria could come early next week in the Senate, according to ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ. In a quick pro forma session at noon today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will place the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s resolution on the calendar. This allows for preliminary debate of the resolution to begin on Monday or Tuesday and sets up the first vote on cloture for as early as Wednesday. Reid indicated earlier this week that he hopes to have the resolution voted on by the end of next week.
THIS WEEK ON ‘THIS WEEK’: As Washington debates potential military action against Syria, we have full analysis and the latest details of where the vote in Congress stands, and what it will take for the Obama administration to win support for a Syria strike. This Sunday, George Stephanopoulos goes one-on-one with two key players in the debate – White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a vocal critic of U.S. involvement in Syria. And our powerhouse roundtable tackles the debate over military action against Syria, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, co-founder of the Foreign Policy Initiative Dan Senor, The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren. Check the “This Week” page for full guest listings. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. Tune in Sunday: http://abcnews.go.com/thisweek
THE SYRIA SCOREBOARD by the ABC News Political Unit:
THE SENATE: http://abcn.ws/18rMbwx
SUPPORT MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 19
LIKELY TO SUPPORT MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 3
LIKELY TO OPPOSE MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 4
OPPOSE MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 14
THE HOUSE: http://abcn.ws/1a99GwE
OPPOSE MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 71
LIKELY TO OPPOSE: 146
SUPPORT MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: 20
LIKELY TO SUPPORT: 23
ABC’s JONATHAN KARL: With support tanking in Congress for a U.S. military strike on Syria, the big question is whether President Obama would go forward with an attack if Congress does not approve one. The answer, according to Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, is “no.” “The president, of course, has the authority to act, but it is neither his desire nor his intention to use that authority absent congress backing him,” Blinken told NPR’s Steve Inskeep this morning. Privately, other senior administration officials have been saying the same thing for days: Absent another major development in Syria, they find it inconceivable that the President would move forward with an attack if Congress fails to authorize it. When the President was asked about this on Wednesday at a press conference in Sweden, he said he retains the authority to act, but he said the Congressional vote was more than just symbolic. “I did not take this to Congress just because it’s an empty exercise,” the president said. White House officials say the implications of a “no” vote go far beyond Syria. If Congress fails to approve this small targeted action, officials believe it would signal a significant withdrawal of U.S. operations around the world. That would mean a quicker withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It would also, officials say, effectively rule out any potential military action against Iran even if the Iranian government moves forward in developing nuclear weapons. Watch my “Good Morning America” report from Russia: http://abcn.ws/19oLMw4
ABC’S JEFF ZELENY: The White House believes the situation in the House is not as dire as it looks on Syria — but they expected to end the week on a far stronger note and are worried momentum may be working against them. Several lawmakers privately say they are still open to supporting military strikes, but are unwilling to say so publically because of its deep unpopularity back home. About half of the House still hasn’t received briefings, which could provide cover and change some minds, but in the tug-of-war between constituent voices and classified information, the constituent voices of opposition are winning.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: When President Obama has called on the public to give an earful to members of Congress, this wasn’t what he had in mind. Voters are an undeniable factor in the debate over Syria – but they’re pushing against the president in their interactions with lawmakers, and hardly at all for him. Organizing for Action, the former presidential campaign army, plans to be visible today outside House Speaker John Boehner’s district office – to rally for the Obama health care law, and very much not for his urgent pitch on Syria. The bottom line: Congress won’t buy this until the public does. Support has moved away from the president’s position in the six days since he effectively turned the decision over to lawmakers. For a president used to channeling public support and trying to turn it into action, this is a particular kind of challenge. The public is not on his side, and he won’t get his desired outcome until or unless he can turn that around.
TOP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: OBAMA HAS NO ‘DESIRE’ TO STRIKE SYRIA WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION. In an interview with NPR this morning, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said of President Obama that “it’s neither his desire nor his intention” to launch military strikes against Syria without congressional approval, ABC’s DEVIN DWYER notes. The comment clearly leaves the door open to Obama proceeding on his own, but it appears to be the strongest attempt yet by the administration to raise the stakes of the coming vote on a Syria resolution. “After the events of Aug. 21 we reached out to Congress and we had conversations with members of Congress from across the country. And the one thing we heard is that they wanted their voice heard and their vote counted in this,” Blinken said. “The president, of course, has the authority to act but it’s neither his desire nor his intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him,” he said. Since he first announced plans to seek congressional authority for military action, President Obama has asserted in principle the Constitutional authority to strike on his own, an assertion also made repeatedly this week on Capitol Hill by Secretary of State John Kerry. But top officials have resisted questions on the hypothetical of what Obama would do if Congress votes “no.”
JOHN KERRY WARNS OF MORE SYRIAN EXTREMISTS IF CONGRESS VOTES ‘NO’. Secretary of State John Kerry responded to the video posted by the New York Times on Thursday that appeared to show Syrian rebel fighters executing regime soldiers, saying that the men in the videos are another reason why Congress needs to authorize President Obama to strike against Syria, ABC’s DANA HUGHES reports. “I guarantee you if we turn our backs today, the picture we all saw in the paper today and the media of those people shot, that will take place more because more extremists will be attracted to this,” Kerry said in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes last night. “Because they will be funded as the only alternative in order to take on Assad,” he warned. Kerry has come under fire for his claims during congressional hearings this week that the administration estimates only “15 to 25 percent” of the estimated 70,000 to 100,000 rebel fighters are extremists, with the majority of the opposition being made up of moderates. But he defended the assertion, telling Hayes that the administration knows there are about 11 really bad opposition groups — so-called opposition,” he said. “They are fighting Assad. They are not part of the opposition that is being supported by our friends and ourselves,” Kerry added. http://abcn.ws/1aT5jZx
NOTED: STATE DEPARTMENT PULLS STAFF FROM LEBANON AND TURKEY. The State Department announced that is has pulled non-emergency staff and families from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut today “due to threats to U.S. Mission facilities and personnel,” ABC’s DANA HUGHES notes. The department is also urging U.S. citizens to “avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns.” The Department also announced a voluntary drawdown from the U.S. Consulate General in Adana, Turkey as well for non-emergency staff and family members. In Lebanon it specifically cites concerns about Hezbollah and the ongoing conflict in Syria as posing threats to American citizens, telling Americans “U.S. citizens in Lebanon should monitor ongoing political and security developments in Syria, as this may impact the security situation.” A statement also mentions “current tensions in the region as well as potential threats to U.S. Government facilities and personnel,” as the rationale for the drawdowns saying the State Department is “taking these steps out of an abundance of caution.”
WHY OBAMA DOESN’T HAVE CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT ON SYRIA – YET. After this week’s full-court press by top Obama administration officials, one thing is clear: The president does not yet have the votes to authorize a military strike on Syria. Indeed, he has a long way to go. Such an assessment is based on the ABC News Political Unit’s latest count of where the votes stand in the House and Senate, a broad canvas of public comments by 433 voting House members and 100 voting senators, plus ABC News’ own reporting. The numbers will likely shift quite a bit by the time Congress votes on military intervention, but here are five key takeaways based on the count as it stands now, courtesy of ABC’s RICK KLEIN: http://abcn.ws/1aT5jZx
1. PRESIDENT OBAMA DOES NOT HAVE THE VOTES TO PASS A RESOLUTION IN EITHER CHAMBER, BUT HE FACES THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN THE HOUSE. According to ABC News reporting, the situation is more dire in the House than the Senate, although he does not have anywhere near a majority of committed or leaning votes in either chamber of Congress, at least if members’ public statements are to be believed. And in the House, where more than 200 members are on record as opposing, or leaning toward opposing, the use of force will make efforts to find a majority exceedingly difficult. It takes 217 votes to pass or block action in the House, based on the number of members.
2. OBAMA CAN BLAME REPUBLICANS. The vast majority of Republicans who’ve made their feelings known so far oppose military action against Syria, marking a major shift in the GOP’s foreign policy ideology since the Bush era. This partly reflects a growing and increasingly influential libertarian wing in the GOP that’s skeptical of any foreign intervention (not surprisingly Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has been an outspoken critic of a strike). It also stems in part from the fact that this is a Democratic president with an anti-war history asking a divided Congress to act. It’s sometimes tough to disentangle the anti-Obama sentiments from the anti-Obama-agenda sentiments, even when that agenda would more closely align with, say, a Bush foreign policy than perceptions of an Obama one. But if Republican members of Congress were to vote as they would have been expected to vote under President George W. Bush, and he were to have asked for the same authorization, this vote would not be anywhere near as close as it’s going to be.
3. OBAMA CAN ALSO BLAME DEMOCRATS. Among those who need convincing, and might not ever be convinced, is a liberal wing in the Democratic Party that has had its perceptions colored by the Iraq War. These members of Congress (think Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and several of its members like Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.) are skeptical of both intelligence on chemical weapons, and the United States’ ability to quickly change the course of a Middle Eastern conflict without getting bogged down. More general liberal disenchantment with the Obama administration is fueling the severe skepticism on whether this is the right path. With liberal groups threatening primary challenges against Democrats who support President Obama, the only real fear of electoral backlash among members of Congress is coming from the left. And the vaunted Obama “army,” the reconstituted pieces of his campaign apparatus working for the Obama agenda, is notably silent.
4. THE PRESIDENT HIMSELF WILL NEED TO MAKE THE CASE. If there’s one united theme coming out of Congress, it’s that President Obama needs to make the case directly and aggressively to the American people. The bottom line is that the public doesn’t want this, and until or unless lawmakers sense that changing, they’re not going to support the president’s pitch for military intervention in Syria. ABC News-Washington Post polling out this week found that 59 percent of the public opposes missile strikes in Syria, while just 36 percent support them. Based on anecdotal evidence, the feedback members of Congress are getting is even more lopsided: The anti-intervention voices are far louder, and far more willing to contact their members of Congress, than those on the president’s side.
5. NONE OF THIS MEANS THE PRESIDENT WON’T GET THE AUTHORIZATION HE’S SEEKING. Indeed, it’s premature to suggest any resolution will fail. Most close observers, and even some leading opponents of intervention, concede that the president will most likely get where he needs to go. But he and his allies are going to have to make a very hard sell and, again, the public end of this will be critical as he seeks to move the needle on Capitol Hill.
MEETING OF THE MINDS: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will host a dinner tonight with five of the six living former senate majority leaders. Reid will dine with former Sens. Bill Frist, Trent Lott, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, George Mitchell and their wives.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
GOP SENATE CANDIDATE MATT BEVIN: NOBODY BUYING MITCH MCCONNELL-RAND PAUL ‘LOVE NARRATIVE’. Matt Bevin, who is challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell in next year’s Republican primary in Kentucky, might seem like a natural friend for Kentucky’s Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul. But then why is Paul supporting McConnell? Bevin writes off the “Mitch-Rand love narrative” as a case of politics making for strange bedfellows and says Paul’s political aspirations factor into his endorsement of McConnell’s bid for a sixth term in the Senate. “There is nobody in Kentucky that is fooled by this Mitch-Rand love narrative,” Bevin tells “The Fine Print’s” JEFF ZELENY. “The people who have ultimately coalesced behind Rand Paul are people who have from the beginning been with me in large measure … And those very same people are looking for someone else to be an alternative to what they see as the bit of the charade, the pretend conservativism that we get from Mitch McConnell.” WATCH: http://yhoo.it/1aTAwvr
@PostReid: Rahm Emanuel will appear on Letterman on Monday. 7 second delay? — http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-emanuel-to-appear-on-letterman-monday-20130905,0,4599895.story …
@matthewjdowd: Fantastic Friday to you all! let’s hope we each arise healthy and at least one hop from happy. and we honor the day and all that it brings