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The House’s Syria hearing: Live updates

A day after testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Obama’s top national security aides likely face a tougher examination of the administration’s plans for military intervention in Syria from House Republicans and skeptical Democrats.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey are again set to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Stay tuned below for the latest updates.


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The latest

Today’s hearing is taking place in the House, but the Senate’s version of the resolution came under fire Wednesday when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he opposed the new language crafted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Here’s the report from Post Politics:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that he opposes the Syria use-of-force resolution as crafted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

McCain has pushed for more active military involvement, but is concerned senators have sought to lessen the president’s authority in the language used in the resolution.

“In its current form, I do not” support it, McCain told AP.

McCain’s departure demonstrates the fine line members are walking in crafting the resolution. Most opponents of the resolution would prefer no military action at all. McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have suggested they may oppose the resolution if it’s too weak.

The Senate resolution was crafted after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday held a hearing featuring Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

The resolution is being marked up Wednesday in the committee, so McCain’s opposition may not be final.

Aaron Blake
September 4, 11:53 am
  • Aaron Blake September 4, 11:53 am

The current vote count

Over the last 24 hours, the House has grown more opposed to the Senate’s measure, with many members weighing in against it but support staying the same.

As of now, there are three times as many opponents in the House (51) as supporters (17), according to The Fix’s whip count.

Also, the ranks of skeptics and those against military action are now larger than those who support it and are undecided.

The latest breakdown:

Aaron Blake
September 4, 12:00 pm
  • Aaron Blake September 4, 12:00 pm

Putin weighs in

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin weighs in on the United States’ deliberations over military action in Syria in a new interview with AP.

The highlights, from the Post’s Will Englund:

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned the United States and its allies against launching a unilateral military strike against Damascus, saying the West’s case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

In an interview published Wednesday by the Associated Press, Putin said Russia is developing a plan of action in case the United States does attack Syria without United Nations approval, but he declined to go into specifics.

He said Russia — Syria’s most stalwart ally — has frozen the shipment of certain parts for S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that it had agreed to sell to Assad’s regime.

Putin said that if the United States and its allies could provide sufficient evidence that Assad’s forces carried out a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb, Russia would consider allowing United Nations action against Syria.

But Putin told the Associated Press that he remains skeptical, in part because it seems unlikely that Assad would risk international repercussion by using long-banned chemical weapons to kill hundreds of men, women and children.

“It ought to be convincing,” Putin said. “It shouldn’t be based on some rumors and information obtained by the special services through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”

The lengthy interview took place at his country residence late Tuesday night, with both the Associated Press and Russian television’s First Channel in attendance. Putin touched on his country’s relations with the United States, his sometimes “vexed” but generally constructive relations with Obama, and a host of other topics — including Syria, Snowden, gay rights and Moscow mayoral candidate Alexei Navalny.

“This man brings problems wherever he appears,” Putin said of Navalny, Russia’s most famous anti-corruption campaigner. Navalny, who memorably labeled Putin’s United Russia the “party of crooks and thieves,” is currently appealing a six-year sentence for extortion on charges that he claims were trumped up at the Kremlin’s behest.

“President Obama hasn’t been elected by the American people in order to be pleasant to Russia,” he said. “And your humble servant hasn’t been elected by the people of Russia to be pleasant to someone either.”

About Obama, he said, “We work, we argue about some issues. We are human. Sometimes one of us gets vexed. But I would like to repeat once again that global mutual interests form a good basis for finding a joint solution to our problems.”

On Syria, Putin emphasized the points that he and other Russian officials have made previously: He said it would have been “ludicrous” for Assad’s forces to use chemical weapons, when the whole world was watching and they were gaining the upper hand against the rebels.

Aaron Blake
September 4, 12:11 pm
  • Aaron Blake September 4, 12:11 pm

Code Pink is in the house

Anti-war Code Pink protesters, who often interrupt such hearings and did so Tuesday in the Senate, are in the room for today’s hearing.


Aaron Blake
September 4, 12:15 pm
  • Aaron Blake September 4, 12:15 pm

Kerry to again make the case for air strikes

After Tuesday’s three-and-a-half hour hearing before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, today the House gets its turn to grill Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kerry, who noted that his first appearance in the committee room had been when he was a 27-year-old activist, faced the vast majority of questions as he insisted “the president is not asking you to go to war.”

Expect committee members to pick up on his “boots on the ground” comments from Tuesday and ask whether the Obama administration would consider sending American military personnel into Syria in any circumstances.

At one point during Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing, the secretary of state appeared to suggest that was a possibility.

“I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be on the table,” he said, before quickly revisiting the issue to clarify that he wanted to “shut that door now as tight as we can.”

Kerry insisted that he had addressed a “hypothetical question,” and said “there will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may also face more questions than he tackled Tuesday, considering his bruising experience at the hands of House Republicans during his confirmation hearings.

Billy Kenber
September 4, 12:18 pm
  • Billy Kenber September 4, 12:18 pm

Royce: Syria's 'odious use of chemical weapons'

Some members have cast doubt on the Obama administration’s belief that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons. House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) is not one of them.

During his opening remarks, Royce referred to Syria’s “odious use of chemical weapons.”

Royce is considered undecided on the use of military force, according to The Fix’s vote tracker.

Royce used his opening statement to reflect on the tough decision ahead.

“The administration’s Syria policy doesn’t build confidence,” Royce said. “It is a cliche but true: There are no good answers.”

Aaron Blake
September 4, 12:20 pm
  • Aaron Blake September 4, 12:20 pm

Hagel, Dempsey to join hearing late

The hearing has begun, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey are not yet at the witness table.

Fear not, though, as committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) just said they willarrive shortly.

Aaron Blake
September 4, 12:26 pm
  • Aaron Blake September 4, 12:26 pm

Engel: Send message to Iran, N.Korea

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the committee, opens his remarks with a warning that the United States must launch limited military action in order to send a message to Iran and North Korea.

“I strongly agreed with President Obama that the United States must respond to this flagrant violation of international law with a limited military strike…but the issue we confront today is much bigger,” he said.

“We are talking about the credibility of America as a global power.”

Engel argued that air strikes would also be about sending a message “to dictators in Tehran and Pyongyang.”

He said “Iran in particular is watching very closely” to see if there are consequences for flouting international laws.

Engel continued: “If we do not pass the authorization measure, what message will Assad get? What message will Tehran get?”

Billy Kenber
September 4, 12:33 pm
  • Billy Kenber September 4, 12:33 pm

Kerry: 'Not the time for armchair isolationism'

Secretary of State John Kerry at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Syria (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Secretary of State John Kerry at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Syria (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Secretary of State John Kerry repeated much of his opening statement from Tuesday’s Senate hearing, reinforcing the administration’s argument that there is no doubt the Syrian regime is responsible for the use of chemical weapons.

“This is not the time for armchair isolationism,” he said.

Kerry added: ”We’re here because a dictator and his family’s enterprise … were willing to infect the air of Damascus” with chemical weapons.

“Some people in a few places, amazingly against all evidence, have questioned whether this took place,” Kerry said.

Kerry said Tuesday that the evidence would be enough to sentence someone to death. Wednesday, he said it would be enough for a life sentence.

Kerry continued: ”It did happen, and the Bashar al-Assad regime did it. .. I can tell you beyond a reasonable doubt the evidence proves that the Assad regime prepared this attack and that they attacked exclusively opposition-controlled or -contested territory.”

Aaron Blake
September 4, 12:34 pm
  • Aaron Blake September 4, 12:34 pm

Senate Syria markup delayed

The Senate’s hearing on its new Syria use of force resolution has been delayed, the Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports:

A hearing scheduled to begin consideration of a new resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Syria has been delayed amid reports that the panel might not vote on the proposal Wednesday.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to begin meeting at 11:30 a.m., but had yet to begin meeting more than 45 minutes later.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told the Associated Press that there might not be a vote on the new resolution Wednesday, as scheduled. That comes amid reports that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — a leading GOP voice on national security issues — is opposed to the wording of the new resolution.

Later, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) emerged from a closed-door meeting of the committee to say it was his “sense” that panel would still vote on the resolution today.

Aaron Blake
September 4, 12:50 pm
  • Aaron Blake September 4, 12:50 pm
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