White House Launches Full Court Press on Syria

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • HAPPENING ON THE HILL: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on Syria today as lawmakers begin the process of deciding whether to authorize the use of military force against Syria, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ and JOHN PARKINSON report. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey are expected to testify before the committee as the White House looks to gain support for its push to strike Syria. The White House is engaging in a full-court press as it tries to make its case to lawmakers. A vote on a resolution to authorize military strikes against Syria won't occur until the week of Sept. 9, when Congress returns from recess, giving the administration a short time to lobby members of Congress for one of the most important foreign policy votes since the war in Iraq.
  • WHAT KERRY WILL SAY: A senior State Department official said Kerry "will argue that the failure to take action against Assad unravels the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use; endangers our friends and our partners along Syria's borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq; and risks emboldening Assad and his key allies - Hezbollah and Iran - who will see that there are no consequences for such a flagrant violation of international standards," according to ABC's DANA HUGHES. "Kerry will underscore that anyone who is concerned about serious issues of nonproliferation involving Iran and North Korea should support this action lest we send a message to those regimes that America's statements of consequences are without meaning," the State Department official said. On Wednesday, Kerry is due to return to Capitol Hill to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in an open hearing and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a classified hearing with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
  • TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE: This morning President Obama meets with members of Congress about Syria at the White House. House Speaker John Boehner, Democratic Leader Pelosi and the ranking members and chairmen of the national security committees are expected to attend, according to ABC's MARY BRUCE. This evening the president departs for Sweden.


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Nobody's going to accuse President Obama of having perfect timing. His task now: to convince Congress to authorize military force in perhaps the least hospitable congressional climate in generations. He can't count on a united Republican Party, not in the libertarian-tinged tea party era. He can't count on his own party to sign on out of pure trust, not in the post-Iraq period of skepticism surrounding intelligence on such matters. The president is forced to depend on political rivals who want him to get more involved than he wants to, even as his own inclinations push him very much in the opposite direction. He's likely to get the vote he needs, if only because the alternative is unthinkable. But it's going to mean making and remaking some coalitions. He'll be getting to a new kind of bipartisan politics, though surely not the way he intended.

ABC's DANA HUGHES: This afternoon Secretary Kerry, along with Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey will help make the case for Syria strikes at a Senate Foreign Relations Hearing. According to a Senior State Department official Kerry will argue that "the failure to take action against Assad unravels the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use; endangers our friends and our partners along Syria's borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq; and risks emboldening Assad and his key allies - Hezbollah and Iran - who will see that there are no consequences for such a flagrant violation of international standards," said the official who added that Kerry will challenge members of Congress who say they are concerned about serious issues of nonproliferation involving Iran and North Korea to support the President's decision or risk sending a message to those regimes that "America's statements of consequences are without meaning."

ABC's DEVIN DWYER: As President Obama "floods the zone" on Syria, making more coordinated outreach to Congress than at perhaps any other point in his presidency, he does so without a loyal and vocal ally that he's deployed in nearly every other legislative push: his grassroots army. The conspicuous absence of Obama's social media machine, educating on the importance of military action in Syria with its trademark info-graphics, web videos, and online petition drives, reflects the depth of public skepticism and division within Democratic ranks. Obama himself has not yet engaged the operation as he has in the past, with calls on supporters to talk to their neighbors and friends and pressure lawmakers with letters, calls, emails, faxes and tweets. The president's twitter account (@BarackObama), which is managed by his independent advocacy group Organizing for Action, has not once tweeted about Syria to its 36 million followers. As Sen. John McCain said Monday, "they have a selling job to do" - a job that appears to include the very people Obama has relied upon to help do the selling.


OBAMA'S STEEP CLIMB ON SYRIA. Congress will not vote on a war resolution until at least the week of Sept. 9, when both chambers return for legislation business, giving the White House a short opportunity to build the president's argument that the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons on its own people merits a U.S. military strike, ABC's JEFF ZELENY, JOHN PARKINSON and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE report. But getting to 218 votes in the House, not to mention achieving a successful vote in the Senate, is clearly an uphill climb for President Obama to ascend. If the vote were taken now, several lawmakers told ABC News over the weekend that they believe it would fail. "I'm not there yet," Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., said. "I am hoping to find an answer to the question, is there another way to hold Assad accountable?" "There's a lot more questions I have to have answered," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., added. "I want to know exactly what the game plan is." Many of the president's Democratic allies are opposed to military action - saying they don't dispute the chemical weapons but nevertheless are wary of rushing into another war by trusting a premise that could be based on uncertain intelligence. "In that room today there was a lot of memories," Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said, adding that there was a "great deal of skepticism."

OBAMA TURNS TO FORMER FOE, ROBERT MENENDEZ, AS AN ALLY. The call from the White House was not unexpected. Back in New Jersey for the August recess, Sen. Robert Menendez answered the phone Thursday evening, fully expecting to learn final details of President Obama's plan for attacking Syria, ABC's JOSH MARGOLIN writes. The Democratic senator, a social liberal with foreign policy views that border on the hawkish, is in his rookie season as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The Syria chemical-weapons crisis would mark Menendez's first moment front-and-center on the international stage as leader of the critical Senate panel. It was to be a chance for the backroom brawler from the city streets of North Jersey to finally step out of the shadow of his predecessors, John Kerry (now secretary of state) and Joe Biden (now vice president) - and to prove to his critics he deserved his coveted spot. That Thursday phone call was not unexpected. But it did offer a surprise. A huge surprise. Instead of hearing strike details, Menendez listened as the president explained he was thinking of altering course and holding off on an attack so he could secure congressional approval for military action. Never a fan of Obama or his laid-back style, Menendez was now on the verge of becoming the unlikely go-to guy for a White House quickly bleeding support and credibility. Now, the president put Menendez - a man he doesn't like - in charge of what could be the most critical foreign-policy initiative of his fledgling second term. "When you're president, you don't always get to choose the legislator you need on a particular issue," said Princeton University public affairs professor Julian Zelizer, an expert on presidential leadership. The curtain will rise on this new Menendez-Obama alliance when the senator gavels his committee to order this afternoon. Among the first witnesses expected to be called are Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

MCCAIN WARNS OF 'CATASTROPHIC' CONSEQUENCES FOR SYRIA VOTE. Emerging from a White House meeting with President Obama yesterday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it would be "catastrophic" for Congress to reject the president's request to take military action against Syria's use of chemical weapons, but that the administration needs to outline a stronger case to the American people, according to ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and ARLETTE SAENZ. "If the Congress were to reject a resolution like this after the President of the United States has already committed to action, the consequences would be catastrophic in that the credibility of this country, with friends and adversaries alike, would be shredded and there would be not only implications for this presidency, but for future presidencies as well," McCain told reporters shortly after meeting with the president in the Oval Office. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who along with McCain, met with Obama for roughly an hour, was optimistic that the administration is developing a comprehensive military strategy - a "pretty solid plan" - but said he needs to see more details. "For the first time, I see the development of a strategy that will upgrade the opposition as well as degrade Assad," said Graham, who urged the president to "up his game" in explaining the need for action to the "skeptical" American public. McCain added: "Tell us without any hesitation, Mr. President, what does it matter to us as a nation if this war goes on and Assad wins?"

WHERE DO THE POSSIBLE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES STAND ON SYRIA? Positions on military action and going to war are critical during presidential primaries and general elections. Where potential 2016 candidates stand on intervention in Syria now could very well come up on the campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire These moments have a way of coming back to haunt presidential candidates and they will be made to answer for their positions just as then Sen. Barack Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq helped him in his primary against Hillary Clinton. If you're in the opposition party, standing apart from the administration is key. Here's a rundown of where the possible 2016ers stand on Syria from ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE:


JUSTICE GINSBURG PRESIDES AT SAME-SEX WEDDING. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided at a same-sex wedding Saturday evening at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, ABC's DEAN SCHABNER notes. The wedding was between Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, who is a longtime friend of hers, and John Roberts, a government economist. Kaiser told The Associated Press he asked Ginsburg to officiate. "It's very meaningful mostly to have a friend officiate, and then for someone of her stature, it's a very big honor," Kaiser said. "I think that everything that's going on that makes same-sex marriage possible and visible helps to encourage others and to make the issue seem less of an issue, to make it just more part of life." Ginsburg released a statement Friday calling Kaiser "a friend and someone I much admire." "That is why I am officiating at his wedding," she said.


"OBAMA RECOGNIZES AS A DEMOCRACY, WE NEED CONSENSUS AND DEBATE ON SYRIA," an Op-Ed by Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. "The president has two tasks before him: to provide the American people, directly and through our representatives in Congress, the evidence - the incontrovertible evidence - that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. We are leery - rightfully - of the kind of "snow job" that got us into Iraq. What we want - and deserve - is the same information that persuaded the President. Obviously, it's more than showing us pictures of doctors or the corpses of children. And just as obviously, how the intelligence was obtained, indeed some of the facts themselves, cannot be shared because of national security or the safety of members of our intelligence community. Nevertheless, the president has committed his administration to transparency, to debate and to trusting the judgment of the people. The second task facing the president is connecting action in Syria - any action, but specifically military action - to our core values as a nation. Thus: 'We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.' That is a given. It's one of those commonplaces that still needs repeating. But 'the values that define us' still need to be spelled out. And President Obama did: '…we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations.'"


@NickKristof: Syria has now passed a grim new milestone: 2 million refugees have fled abroad. Millions more displaced at home.

@SusanPage: Meaningful? Obama administration 1st since 1892 (Benjamin Harrison) w/POTUS, Veep, Sec State & Sec Defense/War all veterans of Congress.

@chrishughes: New Republic cover story: American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here's How @tnr

@PostReid: Want to recall your state legislator? There's an app for that, & it's returning shocking %ages of valid signatures - …

@Jordanfabian: Married the girl of my dreams this weekend @mhf108. Could not be happier.

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