What to watch for in President Obama’s speech tonight

September 10, 2013

Click here to watch President Obama's speech live at 9 p.m. ET.

President Obama will address the country over the situation in Syria tonight, an address that comes amid continued erosion of Congressional support for a use of force resolution against the country and the emergence of a possible diplomatic solution involving Russia and the United Nations.


President Obama

So, what will Obama say? And, perhaps more importantly, how will he say it? Here's our viewer's guide for the speech.

* 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.

* Limited? Necessary? Necessarily limited?: As the Post's Zach Goldfarb wrote this morning, the messaging on Syria from the Obama Administration has been decidedly muddled. On the one hand, everyone from President Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry on down has focused on the moral case for an attack -- that the American public needs to be behind this effort because it is the right thing to do and to not act would be setting a dangerous precedent for the future. At the same time, the Administration has been extremely careful to note the "limited" nature of these strikes -- with Kerry even describing them on Monday as "unbelievably small". So, which is it? Are these strikes a moral necessity to prevent future rogue nations from acting? Or are they such a small effort as to barely arouse any concern in the public?

* Congressional vote -- alive or dead?: The only way a Congressional vote on the Syria resolution has any chance of rising from the (almost) politically dead is if Obama publicly pushes for it in his speech. Given his response to NBC's Savannah Guthrie in an interview Monday night -- "I wouldn’t say I’m confident. I’m confident that the members of Congress are taking this issue very seriously," Obama said  -- it's hard to see him putting his political capital on the line with a "this must pass"message tonight. If he doesn't put the hard sell on, expect alternative proposals to begin emerging in Congress as a way to move the debate in Washington forward.

* What's next?: The operative word surrounding the current debate over Syria is "confusion". President Obama spent the afternoon on Capitol Hill meeting with Members of Congress but even as he was doing so the possibility of a diplomatic solution involving Russia, Syria and the United Nations was moving on a a parallel track. So, will the next step be a Congressional effort? Or, as seems likely as of this writing, will the effort in Congress be put on pause while the diplomatic options are considered?  Members of Congress are certainly waiting for some sense of where this rollicking debate moves next. Will Obama give them that blueprint?

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake | September 10, 2013