The President On Pause
PHOTO: ABCs Diane Sawyer interviewed President Obama on Sept. 9, 2013.

ABC News

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • OBAMA ON A 'MODESTLY POSITIVE' PROPOSAL: If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gives up his chemical weapons, a military strike would "absolutely" be on pause, President Obama said yesterday. "I consider this a modestly positive development," Obama told ABC's DIANE SAWYER in an interview at the White House when asked whether Syria's apparent willingness to relinquish control of its chemical weapons would prevent a U.S. strike. "Let's see if we can come up with language that avoids a strike but accomplishes our key goals to make sure that these chemical weapons are not used," the president said. Obama's comments come after the Russian foreign minister suggested yesterday that Syria could avoid a U.S. attack by turning over its chemical weapons stockpiles over to international control and destroying them.
  • STOP, IN THE NAME OF LAVROV: In Moscow today, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem "accepted" the Russian chemical weapons proposal, Interfax reports, according to ABC's KIRIT RADIA. "We held a round of very effective talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday. He proposed a chemical weapons initiative and we accepted the Russian initiative later that evening," al-Muallem said. He added that they did so to "stave off American aggression." Lavrov, speaking earlier today, said that Russia will soon present a "feasible, clear, and concrete plan" to secure the weapons. "We are going to announce this plan soon and we will be ready to fine-tune and discuss it," Lavrov said. He said the idea came about through contacts with the U.S. and after Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks yesterday. "The proposal for establishing international control over Syria's chemical weapons is not quite Russian. It derives from exchanges we had with American colleagues and from yesterday's statement by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that a strike could be avoided if this problem is solved," Lavrov said during a press conference. He also noted the "widespread positive recognition" of the notion that Syria's chemical weapons must be put under international control.
  • THE POWER OF CREDIBLE THREATS: In his interview with ABC's DIANE SAWYER, President Obama said that a potential diplomatic resolution doesn't mean that Congress should withdraw the threat of military action, notes ABC's ABBY PHILLIP. "I don't think we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility for a military strike and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that," Obama said.
  • A MILESTONE FOR ANN COMPTON: Today, ABC's ANN COMPTONcelebrates 40 years in the business, covering seven American presidents. Hired by ABC News in 1973, Ann has been reporting on the White House and politics for nearly her entire career in television and radio (starting with President Gerald R. Ford). Friday night on board Air Force One, President Obama gave special recognition to Compton, presenting her with a cupcake during a rare off-the-record visit to the press cabin just before landing from Russia. She holds the distinction of being the first woman to cover the White House on a full-time basis by a network news organization as well as the only broadcast reporter allowed to remain onboard Air Force One when President George W. Bush was unable to return to Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. She is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Emmy and Peabody awards, and she was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and the Journalism Hall of Fame. WATCH "Good Morning America's" tribute to Ann:

TUNE IN TONIGHT: ABC News will air special coverage of President Obama's Address to the Nation on the ABC Television Network TONIGHT beginning at 9:00 p.m., ET. DIANE SAWYER will anchor live coverage from ABC News World Headquarters. On Wednesday night "Nightline" will feature a report from LAMA HASAN from Jordan on at team of doctors from the US, some Syrian-American, working to help some of the two million refugees who have fled from the civil war on Wednesday night. Plus, a special edition of "Nightline: Caught in the Crossfire" will air on Thursday night. Three months ago ABC News identified several individuals in the northern city of Aleppo, gave them cameras, and asked them to record their daily lives for this landmark series of eyewitness reports. In addition, ABC News Chief Foreign Correspondent and Anchor TERRY MORAN is reporting for all broadcasts and platforms from the nearby city of Beirut; he is joined there by Middle East Correspondent ALEXANDER MARQUARDT. ABC News Chief White House Correspondent JONATHAN KARL and Chief Global Affairs Correspondent MARTHA RADDATZ are reporting from Washington.

THE SYRIA SCOREBOARD by the ABC News Political Unit:















ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The Senate vote on Syria was floundering, so a delay is a lifeline to President Obama from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But it will be incredibly difficult to hit the Play button on the Senate floor after this dramatic pause. While there are still about 48 senators who technically are undecided, conversations with many of them yesterday suggested they've already made up their minds against the resolution, but simply want to wait until after the president's address tonight to announce their positions. The White House is now strongly urging Democratic senators (and gently asking Republicans) to remain in the undecided column. It's becoming a confusing and tough sell for the president, who takes the rare step of attending back-to-back, face-to-face meetings today on Capitol Hill with Senate Democrats and Republicans.

ABC's RICK KLEIN: What does he say now? The Syria address President Obama will deliver tonight will be quite a bit different than one he would have delivered, say, yesterday morning. But the urgency of convincing the public and Congress remains, only with a less urgent timeframe, thanks to a Russian gambit that Secretary of State John Kerry may or may not have intentionally helped along. Time may be what a White House that was losing its argument needs. Ultimately, though, unless events prod them along, the president will need more than that to bring lawmakers to his side. Opposition to military force is only growing on Capitol Hill, even as the president continues to argue that he wants and needs authorization to strengthen his hand. The president told Diane Sawyer yesterday: "Strikes may be less effective if I don't have congressional support, and if the American people don't recognize why we're doing this." He doesn't, and they don't … which brings us to tonight.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and DANA HUGHES: After her White House stop yesterday, Hillary Clinton is again expected to address Syria this evening. She was slated to discuss national security and civil liberties during the speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which she announced at the American Bar Association conference in California last month, but an aide to Clinton told ABC News that was no longer the case. "What she alluded to last month in her ABA speech was overtaken by events some time ago," the aide said. "Given the developments in Syria over the last few weeks, plans for a robust policy speech in Philadelphia where she is to receive the Liberty Medal on Tuesday night were put on hold. It's simply and obviously not the right time. Furthermore, she is very mindful that she will be speaking only an hour or so before the President addresses the nation." The aide said the speech will not be a "major address" nor "more expansive remarks on Syria," but "if that's what draws people to the very unique moment of Jeb Bush presenting Hillary Clinton with the National Constitution Center's 2013 Liberty Medal, so be it." The speech will be less than two hours before the president addresses the nation to make his case to the American people for a military strike in Syria, but it has been a long-planned event. Another potential 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, the chairman of the National Constitution Center, is presenting Clinton with the organization's 2013 Liberty Medal.


SENATE DELAYS TEST VOTE ON SYRIA. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hit the pause button yesterday on the Senate debate over Syria by delaying the first test vote on the resolution authorizing the use of military force, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ and JEFF ZELENY note. "I don't think we need to see how fast we can do this," Reid said on the Senate floor Monday. "I'm not going to file cloture this evening on the motion to proceed to the Syria resolution." Earlier in the day, Reid indicated the first procedural vote would occur on Wednesday. The delay comes one day before President Obama is set to court Senators on Capitol Hill when he speaks at the weekly Democratic and Republican lunches. The president is also set to take his argument to the public in an address to the nation Tuesday night. But a growing chorus of senators came out Monday in opposition of the president's request to authorize a military strike against Syria. Six senators announced they would vote against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who became the sixth Democratic senator to oppose the president on the issue.

OBAMA ON THE HILL: President Obama takes a trip to Capitol Hill today to court senators on his Syria plan. The president will first meet with Senate Democrats at their weekly luncheon at 12:45p.m. He will then meet separately with Senate Republicans at 1:45p.m.

HOUSE LAWMAKERS HARDEN OPPOSITION TO SYRIA STRIKES. After listening to a classified briefing from five senior administration officials Monday evening, two more lawmakers came out in opposition to strikes against Syria, one went from undecided to leaning against, while another dozen hardened their positions from "lean against" to opposed, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON reports. At this point, even undecided members acknowledge that the vote on authorization stands virtually no chance of passing the House. But it might be a moot point considering the optimism some lawmakers expressed at Russia's proposal that it take over policing responsibilities of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the chairman at the National Republican Congressional Committee, both moved from undecided to opposed tonight. Issa told reporters he was a "firm no" because "even if the plan succeeded, it would, at best, tell Assad not to use chemical weapons" but "allow him to murder another 100,000." "I come out of this classified briefing with more questions than when I went in, less answers and more doubt," Issa told reporters. "Many of the questions that were asked by members of both parties, including on the Russian initiative, were not answered satisfactorily."

HILLARY CLINTON TAKES WHITE HOUSE SIDE ON SYRIA. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly threw her support to the administration's efforts on Syria Monday, and said Syria's surrendering its chemical weapons to international control would be an "important step," according to ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and DANA HUGHES. "Now, if the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step, but this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction, and Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely or be held to account," Clinton said in her first remarks endorsing the president's plan. "It is very important to note that this discussion … about potential international control over Syria's stockpiles only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States to keep pressure on the Syrian government as well as those supporting Syria, like Russia." Clinton mentioned that she'd met with President Obama before yesterday's forum on wildlife trafficking at the White House to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria, but she never used the words "military strike." Instead, she said the "world will have to deal with this threat as swiftly and as comprehensively as possible."

POLL: OPPOSITION TO STRIKING SYRIA ADVANCES WITH NEARLY TWO-THIRDS NOW OPPOSED. Nearly two-thirds of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll oppose U.S. missile strikes against Syria, with momentum counter to the administration's proposed military action, ABC's GARY LANGER writes. Support rises if Congress were to authorize an attack, but only to about an even split. As things stand now, 64 percent oppose air strikes, up by 5 percentage points from a week ago; just 30 percent are in favor, down by 6 points. If Congress rejects action, support drops to 17 percent, with 76 percent opposed. It's a much closer call if Congress were to support air strikes, but even in this case the public divides essentially evenly on the issue, with 44 percent of Americans saying they'd favor air strikes, vs. 48 percent opposed. This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds increased partisanship as the administration has sought to make its case. On the basic measure, regardless of congressional action, 71 percent of Republicans oppose military strikes, up from 55 percent last week. Opposition likewise has increased among conservatives, from 59 percent last week to 74 percent now.

-NOTED: Air strikes against Syria remain opposed by majorities across the political and ideological spectrum. Even among liberal Democrats, a core support group for Obama, just 44 percent support military action, with 50 percent opposed. Across the political spectrum, support from conservative Republicans dives to 22 percent, with 73 percent opposed.


@CarlCannon: Thoughtful piece by @CHueyBurnsRCP on Congressional Black Caucus's dilemma over Syria:

@powelldennis: MT @KremlinRussia_E Tele conversation with PM Shinzo Abe: Japan supports Russia's chem weapons proposal for Syria

@amyewalter: +1! RT @DonGonyea: great reporter. A great person @stevenportnoy: Congratulating my mentor and friend @AnnCompton on her 40 years with @ABC

@mollymhunter: In other news, the UN is hiring a "Mushroom Packaging & Marketing Specialist" in #Jordan: …

@matthewjdowd: Top of Tuesday am! We can each choose today either the comfort/security of the known past or the risk/creativity of an unknown future.

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