President Obama spoke from the White House about Syria beginning just after 9 p.m. ET. Stay here for real-time reaction on the president’s address, and watch the full speech below.
The Post’s Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe report from Capitol Hill that President Obama told Democratic senators he wants to take a look at the Russian government’s plan for Syria to give up control of its chemical weapons before moving ahead with a congressional vote on military action.
“He wants to pursue that [Russian] plan for several days and then see where this stands,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
Added Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), ”I think he [Obama] acknowledges that what it is we’ll vote on may change because of the developments of the day. We may not know what it is right now. … There is an appetite not to vote today while we see the news of the last 24 hours playing themselves out and I think we’re going to see those things play out.”
Three of the four to-ranking party leaders in the House and Senate support military action in Syria. The odd man out? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) The Fix explains the unique political pressure he faces:
None of the other three leaders are being threatened by primary challengers or are under the electoral microscope the way McConnell is this cycle. Faced with a 2014 map with few pick-up opportunities, Senate Democrats have made McConnell their top GOP target, recruiting secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) to challenge him. Pelosi and Boehner aren’t at any risk of losing their seats next year, and Reid doesn’t face reelection until 2016.
The Fix flags five things to watch in President Obama’s prime-time address to the nation, including the question of who, exactly, Obama is going to be speaking to most directly: Americans or the international community? The answer may have seemed obvious last week. But it’s far less clear now:
* The target audience: When President Obama initially announced he would give this speech last Friday in Russia, the expectation was that it would be aimed at convincing the American public and, by extension, their representatives in Congress, that striking Syria is in America’s interest. But, the faltering congressional support for the resolution — there are already more than 217 “no” or “lean no” votes in the House and the “no’s” are coming fast and furious from the Senate today — and the rise of the the possibility of a diplomatic intervention could mean that Obama is focused far more on the international community in his speech.
Speaking to reporters after President Obama met with Republican senators shortly after 3 p.m., Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said a Senate vote on Syria is “not going to happen this week.”
“I think it’s very important for us to keep on the table to ability to use military force, but I think at the same time it’s probably good for us just to take a pause,” he said. “I see no reason for us to have [our] hair on fire.”
Corker said he believed the president “would like some time…to determine whether this offer is credible or not,” and added, “I don’t have a lot of faith in the Russians personally.”
Asked how long the Senate was prepared to wait for Obama to assess Syria’s offer, he said: “I don’t think he even knows at this point. I think they’re still trying to ferret out whether this is a valid offer, or a ploy to delay, stall and keep anything from happening.”
From CBS News:
It looks as though Congress might vote against authorizing President Obama to use military force in Syria — if it ever comes to a vote, of course.
But would that be unprecedented?
In three words: It’s not clear.
Here’s an excerpt from my post with Gillian Brockell on The Fix (click this link for the full piece):
So, if Congress actually votes against authorizing the use of force, would it be unprecedented?
Well, that depends on whom you ask.
Bloomberg declared in a recent story that Congress has never spurned a president in this manner.
“No U.S. president has ever been turned down by Congress when asking to use military force,” the story began.
Don’t tell that to James M. Lindsay, the senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations. He recently wrote a blog post detailing five cases in which Congress turned down a request to authorize military action.
Here are the five, pulled directly from his blog post:
- In 1805, Thomas Jefferson urged Congress to authorize him to take action against Spain in a dispute over the boundary separating Florida (then Spanish territory) and Louisiana. Congress did nothing.
- In 1831, Andrew Jackson asked Congress for authority to order reprisals against French shipping and property if France continued to avoid paying damage claims that dated back to the Napoleonic era. The Senate voted unanimously against the request. Jackson let the issue drop.
- In 1859, James Buchanan asked Congress to authorize sending troops into Mexico to punish Indians who were conducting cross-border raids. Congress said no.
- In 1891, Benjamin Harrison asked Congress for authority “to take such action as may be deemed appropriate” to punish Chile for refusing to apologize after a mob killed two American sailors. Congress declined to authorize hostilities.
- In 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for authority to arm American-owned merchant vessels so they could sink German U-boats that had been preying on American shipping. Senators Robert La Follette (R-Wis.) and George Norris (R-Neb.) led a filibuster that killed the bill.
Well there you go … except that not everybody agrees that these examples qualify.
We talked to Richard F. Grimmett, a former Congressional Research Service researcher who specializes in this area. He said these five aren’t really the same thing.
The White House just announced that eight additional counties have signed on to a statement condemning the Syria regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons and calling for a strong international response.
The eight new countries are: Georgia, Guatemala, Kuwait, Malta, Montenegro, Panama, Poland and Portugal.
And here’s the full list of 33 countries that have signed the statement:
Albania; Australia; Canada; Croatia; Denmark; Estonia; France; Guatemala; Georgia; Germany; Honduras; Hungary; Italy; Japan; Republic of Korea; Kosovo; Kuwait; Latvia; Lithuania; Malta; Montenegro; Morocco; Panama; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Saudi Arabia; Spain; Turkey; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she believes President Obama thinks Congress’s apparent opposition to the use of military action against the Assad regime could reduce U.S. leverage in negotiations over Syria’s chemical weapons.
“I think he is very concerned that Congress not undercut that ability for him to threaten force, which obviously if he got a negative vote in the Senate, he feels that he would lose some leverage,” Collins said.
She added, “That’s my interpretation; those are not his words.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who has been opposed to a strike in Syria, said was hopeful that the proposal by the Russians would help the situation in Syria, but acknowledged it was just part of a solution.
“I think it’d be great,” Paul said, adding: “It’s part of the riddle, but it doesn’t completely fix the problem. I mean, Assad still remains, there’s still a civil war going on, there’s still civilians being killed by conventional warfare. But it gets rid of one of the fears of people is that chemical weapons could be launched through rocket attacks on other countries.”
Max Fisher at the WorldViews blog says it might be:
Now that Assad knows he can always delay strikes by simply promising to give up his chemical weapons, he doesn’t actually have to give them up. He just has to convince the United States that he might. Worse, he could reasonably conclude that, since pledges to give up his chemical weapons are his best deterrent against the United States, actually giving them up is the worst thing he could do. Better to hold on to them forever, lest he lose his one real point of leverage, and just keep bluffing.
If that strategy sounds familiar, it should. As North Korea-watcher Adrian Hong put it to me recently, Assad can easily “adopt the North Korea playbook” and keep his chemical weapons but pretend to be forever on the verge of disarming, all the while continuing his bad behavior. The thing that has made this strategy so successful for North Korea is that it can get away with almost anything: global weapons proliferation, sprawling gulags, shelling South Korean civilians for fun. But the world is so concerned about North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction – nuclear as well as chemical – that nobody wants to upset the interminably protracted negotiations over rolling them back.
Anne Gearan reports:
Secretary of State John F. Kerry will travel to Europe this week to discuss the proposal to assume international control of Syria’s chemical weapons with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a senior administration official said.
The meeting will be Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland, where the United States and Russia hope to convene a separate peace conference on Syria.