WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2013— -- Emerging from a White House meeting with President Obama on Monday, 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.
"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?"
"I believe the president is capable of doing that, has not yet done it, but he is ready to do it. And if he's ready to do that part, I'm ready to go to my colleagues in the Congress and say, 'Now's the time for us to come together before it's too late.'"
By extending an invitation to McCain to visit the White House this afternoon, the administration is hoping the president's one-time foe will become a crucial ally to help convince skeptical lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to vote for military intervention in Syria.
After the president announced Saturday that he will seek congressional approval for any military strikes in Syria, Graham and McCain, both foreign policy hawks, could be important pieces to the puzzle as the administration tries to rally support for military action against Syria among war-weary lawmakers and the nation.
Congress will not vote on the 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.
Obama's decision to seek congressional authority sets the stage for the biggest foreign policy vote in Congress since the Iraq war.
McCain, who traveled to Syria in May to meet with rebel forces, and Graham support military action in Syria, but they don't think the president's plans go far enough and are calling for more than just isolated strikes.
It's likely that today's meeting is meant to address such concerns of his and others in Congress who say they believe the president is doing too little after the attack in the Damascus suburbs last month that the United States says included the Syrian government's use of sarin gas on its own people, killing more than 1,400 civilians, including more than 400 children.
"We're in a bit of a dilemma here because I think Senator Lindsey Graham and I and others will be wanting a strategy, a plan," McCain said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.
"Rather than just we're going to launch some cruise missiles and -- and that's it -- and even worry more when the president's chief of staff -- chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- says, 'Well, it doesn't matter when we strike.' Well, that's not a military action then. That's a symbolic action. So we need to have a strategy and a plan, and that plan, in our view -- the best way to eliminate the threat of Bashar Assad's continued use of chemical weapons -- and, by the way, we know he's used them a number of times before -- would be the threat of his removal from power," McCain said.
Despite his criticism, McCain did signal a possible willingness to support the president, acknowledging that the "consequences of the Congress of the United States overriding a decision of the president of the United States of this magnitude are really very, very serious.
"And, already, we're sending a bad signal to Iran, to North Korea, to Bashar Assad," although he did not confirm a vote, saying he first needs to see a "strategy" that military action "will achieve some goals that we need to achieve."