Behind the scenes, Obama joined Vice President Biden on Sunday night for a family-style Italian dinner with about a dozen Republican senators at the vice president’s residence, while other senior officials were set Monday to offer closed-door briefings to the full House — the continuation of what White House officials described as a full-throttle effort to win over skeptical lawmakers in both parties.
Yet several of the administration’s key backers on Syria said Sunday that the effort may be too little, too late, coming after a congressional recess in which lawmakers heard overwhelming opposition from constituents and had limited access to the classified information that formed the basis of the administration’s arguments.
“It’s an open question today what the House would do,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a supporter of limited military action. “The real challenge has been that members of Congress are scattered all over the country.”
Two key Republican backers of Obama’s Syria position used Sunday television interviews to criticize the White House for what they call its inept lobbying effort and muddled strategy on Syria dating to the onset of that country’s civil war.
Obama last year described the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” that would change his calculus on U.S. involvement in Syria. After U.S. findings that Assad used poison gas on Aug. 21, killing more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children, Obama vowed a firm U.S. response. Then he surprised lawmakers when he said he would seek congressional authorization for a military strike.
“The only thing more confusing to me [than] what their Syria strategy has been the last two years is their strategy to try to get buy-in by the representatives in Congress and the American people,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It is a confusing mess up to this point, and that has been, I think, their biggest challenge on what is an incredibly important issue.”
Rogers said the White House did “an awful job explaining to the American people what is in our national security — what is the national United States interests in any level of engagement in a place like Syria.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Iraq war veteran elected as part of the tea-party wave of 2010, complained on ABC’s “This Week” and in a Washington Post interview Friday that the White House didn’t respond to his offer of help in recent days to rally support among skeptical Republicans for the Syria resolution.