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Obama gains Boehner's support for Syria strike

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:54 p.m. HST, Sep 03, 2013

WASHINGTON >>  President Barack Obama gained ground today in his drive for congressional backing of a military strike against Syria, winning critical support from House Speaker John Boehner while administration officials agreed to explicitly rule out the use of U.S. combat troops in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack.

"You're probably going to win" Congress' backing, Rand Paul of Kentucky, a conservative senator and likely opponent of the measure, conceded in a late-afternoon exchange with Secretary of State John Kerry.

The leader of House Republicans, Boehner emerged from a meeting at the White House and said the United States has "enemies around the world that need to understand that we're not going to tolerate this type of behavior. We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it's necessary."

Boehner spoke as lawmakers in both parties called for changes in the president's requested legislation, rewriting it to restrict the type and duration of any military action that would be authorized, possibly including a ban on U.S. combat forces on the ground.

A new resolution was written today by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn. It could get a vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday. Menendez is the chairman and Corker is the top Republican on the panel.

"There's no problem in our having the language that has zero capacity for American troops on the ground," said Secretary of State John Kerry, one of three senior officials to make the case for military intervention at the committee's hearing.

Kerry had said earlier in the hearing that he'd prefer not to have such language, hypothesizing the potential need for sending ground troops "in the event Syria imploded" or to prevent its chemical weapons cache from falling into the hands of a terrorist organization.

"President Obama is not asking America to go to war," Kerry said in a strongly worded opening statement. He added, "This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter."

Obama said earlier in the day he was open to revisions in the relatively broad request the White House made over the weekend. He expressed confidence Congress would respond to his call for support and said Assad's action "poses a serious national security threat to the United States and to the region."

The administration says 1,429 died from the attack on Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb. Casualty estimates by other groups are far lower, and Assad's government blames the episode on rebels who have been seeking to overthrow his government in a civil war that began over two years ago. A United Nations inspection team is awaiting lab results on tissue and soil samples it collected while in the country before completing a closely watched report.

The president met top lawmakers at the White House before embarking on an overseas trip to Sweden and Russia, leaving the principal lobbying at home for the next few days to Vice President Joe Biden and other members of his administration.

Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sat shoulder-to-shoulder at the Senate committee hearing while, a few hundred miles away, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged caution. He said any punitive action against Syria could unleash more turmoil and bloodshed, and he advised that such strikes would be legal only in self-defense under the U.N. Charter or if approved by the organization's Security Council. Russia and China have repeatedly used their veto power in the council to block action against Assad.

In the Middle East, Israel and the U.S. conducted a joint missile test over the Mediterranean in a display of military might in the region.

Obama set the fast-paced events in motion on Saturday, when he unexpectedly stepped back from ordering a military strike under his own authority and announced he would seek congressional approval.

Recent presidents have all claimed the authority to undertake limited military action without congressional backing. Some have followed up with such action.

Obama said he, too, believes he has that authority, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said during the day that even Congress' refusal to authorize the president wouldn't negate the power of the commander in chief.

Still, the president also has stated that the United States will be stronger if lawmakers grant their support. But neither Obama nor his aides has been willing to state what options would be left to him should Congress reject his call.

As Obama has often noted, the country is weary of war after more than a decade of combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, and there is residual skepticism a decade after Bush administration claims went unproven that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, a spate of polls indicates the public opposes a military strike against Syria, by a margin of 59-36 percent if the United States acts unilaterally, according to a new Washington Post-ABC survey, and a narrower 46-51 if allies take part.

Among major allies, only France has publicly offered to join the United States in a strike, although President Francois Hollande says he will await Congress' decision. The British House of Commons rejected a military strike last week.

Yet the president's decision to seek congressional approval presents lawmakers with a challenge, as well.

Even some of Obama's sternest critics in Congress expressed strong concerns about the repercussions of a failure to act.

House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, R-Va., said after Tuesday's White House meeting that a failure to respond to the use of chemical weapons "only increases the likelihood of future WMD (weapons of mass destruction) use by the regime, transfer to Hezbollah, or acquisition by al-Qaida."

America's largest pro-Israel organization, AIPAC, also announced its support for legislation to authorize a military strike.

Apart from the meeting with Obama, the White House provided closed-door briefings for members of Congress.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said after attending one session that administration officials told lawmakers that the targets the military had identified last week were still present, despite the highly public discussion of a possible attack. "Seems strange to see some targets still available several weeks later," Flake said, adding that he was "still listening" to the administration's lobbying.

Dempsey addressed the same point later in the day. "Time works both ways," he told the Senate panel. He said the United States has significant intelligence about Assad's actions, and "we continue to refine our targets."

Others were firmly opposed. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said on Fox News, "It may sound real easy when people like Secretary Kerry say that 'it is going to be quick and we're going to go in, we're going to send a few cruise missiles, wash our hands and go home.' It doesn't work that way. This could be a war in the Middle East, it's serious."

Paul, the Kentucky Republican who has close ties to tea party groups, said he probably would vote against authorizing Obama to use force. But he said it also wouldn't be helpful to amend the resolution in a way that constrains the president too much to execute military action, if authorized.

He made his prediction that the White House would get its way in an exchange with Kerry in which he said Obama should agree to abide by Congress' decision, rather than reserve the right to order a strike even if the vote goes against him.

Democrats, too, were divided, although it appeared the administration's biggest concern was winning support among deeply conservative Republicans who have battled with the president on issue after issue since winning control of the House three years ago.

The United States maintains a significant military force in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. Navy released one of the warships that had been in the region, leaving four destroyers armed with cruise missiles, the USS Stout, USS Gravely, USS Ramage and USS Barry. Also in the area was an amphibious warship, the USS San Antonio, with about 300 Marines aboard.

In addition, there are two aircraft carriers in the region -- the USS Nimitz strike group, which is in the southern Red Sea, and the USS Harry S Truman, which is in the Arabian Sea.

While announcing his support for military action and urging fellow Republicans to come to the same conclusion, Boehner firmly put the burden of rounding up votes on the administration

Shortly after Boehner left the White House after the meeting, his spokesman Michael Steel said, "Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the speaker expects the White House to provide answers to members' questions and take the lead on any whipping effort."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was noncommittal about Obama's request. "While we are learning more about his plans, Congress and our constituents would all benefit from knowing more about what it is he thinks needs to be done -- and can be accomplished -- in Syria and the region," McConnell said in a statement.

Obama's trip this week includes stops in Stockholm and then St. Petersburg, Russia, where he will be attending the Group of 20 economic summit.


Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Josh Lederman, Donna Cassata, Alan Fram, Jennifer C. Kerr and Lolita Baldor contributed to this story.

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mikethenovice wrote:
The Republicans will always support the easy way to make money which is war.
on September 3,2013 | 06:26AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
It is not the Republicans or the Democrats who will profit but they who own the Bank.
on September 3,2013 | 07:12AM
Anonymous wrote:
Utilize EBT and welfare monies on any action on Syria... What Syria does to its people is their own business. You don't see foreign countries threatening the USA on Obama Care...
on September 3,2013 | 08:42AM
HD36 wrote:
They who own the Bank own the politicians of both parties. They who own the bank also work in Washington. Politicians don't represent the people anymore. They represent their campaign donors.
on September 3,2013 | 10:51AM
Buckykat wrote:
Not this Republican. The consequences of dropping a bomb on Syria just for the sake of a "statement" could be worse than dropping a bomb on North Korea. There's just as many human rights abuses there as Syria.
on September 3,2013 | 07:50AM
HD36 wrote:
Watching C-Span debate now on the military action in Syria. It is not a debate! Both side want war. The only debate I hear is some want to go in with ground forces and change the regime. This is some kind of theatre I'm watching with prescripted speaches. There is absolutely no talk on wether or not it was Assad who used the chemical weapons. The only talk is how much military force to use.
on September 3,2013 | 10:25AM
Kahu Matu wrote:
It is the Democrats who are pushing for a war, but really it is their string pulling campaign donors. The Dems have not cared about the American people for many years and the Republicans are not much better. Our political system stinks, but in a broken and corrupt world, all that you can say is that it is better than the next guys...
on September 3,2013 | 01:54PM
mikethenovice wrote:
The selective Republicans say that we have no money to help the poor, but we have lots of money for a war?
on September 3,2013 | 06:27AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Uh, excuse me? Which Republican opened his big mouth and got us into this pickle? Which Republican has cleverly maneuvered our foreign policy so that our Libyan ambassador was killed and we now find ourselves half way supporting Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood? And now you have the brilliance to blame the Republicans for possibly SUPPORTING what the democrat president has bumbled the country into? I'm having a hard time making sense of your logic?
on September 3,2013 | 09:09AM
false wrote:
True. Bozo Obama should be "red-lined" for stupid act of bravado.
on September 3,2013 | 09:32AM
HOSSANA wrote:
Took the words right out of my mouth......very well put..........
on September 3,2013 | 10:17AM
MartyL wrote:
I'm with Pacej ..... Amazing how the Republicans get blamed even when they didn't open their mouth. Something goes wrong it's the Republicans. Maybe we need to change the name of the party from GOP to Mikey.
on September 3,2013 | 12:52PM
Kahu Matu wrote:
Where is Hillary in all of this? Is she staying out so that she can claim that she never supported such action and be elected by a country that never wanted this? Seems like a plan is unfolding.
on September 3,2013 | 01:56PM
serious wrote:
Hillary---I just saw her with the Messiah on TV---she and Kerry say it's in American's security interest to attack Syria---don't they look at a MAP?????
on September 3,2013 | 02:14PM
lee1957 wrote:
The Federal government has a constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense, but not to feed the poor.
on September 3,2013 | 11:56AM
krusha wrote:
Hopefully they can come to an agreement. At least finally the Republicans have a cause to support together with the President. Now we'll see if they can convince the Democrats to do the same...
on September 3,2013 | 06:28AM
mikethenovice wrote:
The Republicans are not stupid. They value everything based on if will make a profit first. Not if it will help another human being.
on September 3,2013 | 06:29AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Too bad a lot of Republicans think Boehner is a Bonehead.
on September 3,2013 | 06:50AM
soundofreason wrote:
THIS one, being one of them. One of the many.
on September 3,2013 | 07:04AM
Buckykat wrote:
on September 3,2013 | 07:52AM
MartyL wrote:
Boehner is a bonehead on this one.
on September 3,2013 | 12:53PM
Kuniarr wrote:
Obama, forget Syria pleeeese. Leave Syria to the Arabs. The US economy is in ruins because of two Free Trade agreement Clinton entered into in 1999 with China, Canada, Mexico and other North American countries - that caused US factories to move to China, Canada, Mexico, etc

Stimulus spending is useless as long as US consumer product manufacturing industry is non-existent because Stimulus spending will only stimulate the economy of China, Canada, Mexico, etc. who export consumer products US consumers purchase with money from Stimulus spending.

Tax credit is useless for bringing back US factories into the US from China, Canada, Mexico, etc.

You promised to convene an Economic Summit to lay down a plan for a US economic revival. So do it.
on September 3,2013 | 09:56AM
MartyL wrote:
Here here .... but then you can't believe much he says. He told the press that if he couldn't fix the problem in 4 years he wouldn't run again ...what four years?
on September 3,2013 | 12:55PM
serious wrote:
Kunuarr, the USA has free trade with most countries except two STATES---Hawaii and Alaska due to the Jones Act--it's a tariff!!
on September 3,2013 | 02:16PM
loquaciousone wrote:
Many are too young to remember the isolationist theory favored by many prior to WWII. It is NOT OKAY to sit back and think that anything happening anywhere in the world is NOT OUR BUSINESS. That's why Germany and Japan got an epiphany that they could take over the world. It is important to study and remember HISTORY so that we don't repeat our same mistakes.
on September 3,2013 | 10:01AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Many are too young to remember the isolationist theory favored by many prior to WWII. It is NOT OKAY to sit back and think that anything happening anywhere in the world is NOT OUR BUSINESS. That's why Germany and Japan got an epiphany that they could take over the world. It is important to study and remember HISTORY so that we don't repeat our same mistakes.
on September 3,2013 | 10:01AM
Cricket_Amos wrote:
Yes, but the situations are hardly the same. Syria is not invading other countries. Nether Germany nor Japan were engaged in a civil war.
on September 3,2013 | 10:17AM
HD36 wrote:
Also the US is now the largest debtor nation in the history of the world. The Roman Empire collapse from within because they went broke fighting wars across the world.
on September 3,2013 | 10:32AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Correct. We are beyond broke and our glorious leader refuses to even acknowledge it, calling for even more spending. Short of serious fiscal adjustments, we're toast. It's just a matter of time. However, being broke isn't the only problem we could/will have. A regional war in the ME would probably be number two on our worst possible outcomes.
on September 3,2013 | 11:07AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Syria is a client of Iran. So is Hezbollah in Lebanon. So are the Palestinians in Gaza, to an extent. This is not just about the civil war in Syria. It's about the building risk of a destabilization of the oil producing Middle East, a destabilization which could make the 2008 fiscal crisis look trivial in comparison. ----- Consider the aims of Iran: To become a nuclear power, to extend their regional power, and, they say, to destroy Israel. They are building the client state structure to do all of this. What will happen if they continue to make progress (and if we don't impede their progress)? A nuclear arms race in the region. The Saudis aren't going to just sit there if the US deterrent fails to stop an Iranian nuke program (It's failing). Lacking our deterrent, Iran may attempt to make good on their intentions against Israel. Do you think the Israelis will not use their entire WMD arsenal if their survival is at stake? A major regional war, possibly featuring nuke exchanges, would rip the region and the world economy apart. Having oil ourselves would make little difference since our economy is so interlinked globally.--------- So, sitting out the Middle East isn't an option. The only thing worse we could do is to do a half-@ssed job on Syria. Unfortunately, half-@ssed is Obama's specialty.
on September 3,2013 | 11:03AM
allie wrote:
Iran never declared war on anyone and they are not an enemy of USA. You are confused.
on September 3,2013 | 01:50PM
HOSSANA wrote:
The U.S. and Obama and the idiot congress all are waiting for reports on the chemicals in Syria and with all the dialogue and persuasion and getting the support from Congress over a period of time....geezus, by the time approval, if approval is given, the damm Syrian govt. would have hidden and gotten rid of any traces of chemical weapons or evidence that they used chemical weapons....typical liberal mess in the U.S......no leadership from that idiot no balls OBAMMY......if you are a leader, you take the initiative...you show a PROFILE OF COURAGE....but in Obammy's case ...he is nothing but a wimp.....now he is practicallytelling the Syrian govt. when they will be attacking if and when approval is given and by then, the Syrian govt. will be ready.....they should have initiated the attacks long ago and catch the Syrian govt. by surprise.....what a @#$% stupid move by obammy to whimper before those idiots in congress..........doesn't surprise me if they attack Syria and it all goes haywire.......
on September 3,2013 | 10:17AM
HatchKelso wrote:
Let's bomb Syria...Yes we can! Yes we can! Change you can believe in...
on September 3,2013 | 10:27AM
2localgirl wrote:
We need to get rid of both of these men. We do not nor want another war that Americans pay a price for, with lives as well as $$ which are in short supply. I'd heard on TV y'day, a Marine had said, I didn't join the Marines to help Al Qaida win a civil war....amen, our young men and women are tired of a 10 yr war....
on September 3,2013 | 10:37AM
gth wrote:
I just feel humbled and honored for those who service in the military. Mahalo!
on September 3,2013 | 11:11AM
retire wrote:
on September 3,2013 | 11:21AM
Pacej001 wrote:
After watching as much of the Senate hearings on Syria as I can stand, the following seems obvious: 1. We have no meaningful set of objectives worthy of committing military force or risking lives. 2. The best the Obama administration is going to come up with is a half-@ssed, politiciized attempt at saving face (Obama's), our long term interests be d@mned. 3. A half-hearted, limited attack on Syria with out following up with immediate, substantial support to the anti-assad forces will be WORSE than doing nothing and this administration has neither the will or intelligence do manage even that. 4. John Kerry does not have a single clue. 5. Our president is only tangentially interested in leading the most powerful country on the planet. 6. This is one of the most profound displays of Presidential weakness and incompetence in our history. The unfitness of Obama to lead the country is manifest.
on September 3,2013 | 11:30AM
reedosan wrote:
Syria is Muslim religious conflict that the USA must stay out of!
on September 3,2013 | 11:36AM
Pacej001 wrote:
on September 3,2013 | 11:54AM
Charliegrunt wrote:
Once again: "Wise men learn from the mistakes of others, smart men learn from their own mistakes, fools never learn." Now where are the fools elected taking us. When will we listen to our forefathers who warned us not to become involved in foreign entanglements. When we learn that we cannot give other countries freedom and democracy. They must be willing to fight and die for it. Did we succeed in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country? Why is it so important to send a notice that we will not tolerate the use of chemical or nuclear weapons, even if it's against a country's own people? Why was it not important that we serve notice that we will not tolerate attacks against our embassies and consulates because they are acts of war when Benghazi was attacked and four Americans were killed?
on September 3,2013 | 12:02PM
Wahiawamauka wrote:
The American people overwhelmingly do not support military action in Syria. If the representatives truly represent the people, the vote will be a resounding no. Now you will all see the true impact of Israel's influence on our government.
on September 3,2013 | 12:35PM
allie wrote:
agree but Isreal is pressurign them and, well, you know..Congress will neevr stand up to israel
on September 3,2013 | 01:51PM
TLehel wrote:
We're so screwed. I need to get out of this country before everything goes completely south. I really love my home, but it won't be safe for much longer. When martial law is in effect there won't be any place to hide here. Could go into the valleys, but they would probably find me there eventually.
on September 3,2013 | 12:38PM
HD36 wrote:
Your not the only one with the same line of thought. The fee for the form to leave the country went up from $20 to $450. From what I've read here are some good choices: Chile, Paraguay, Australia, Panama, and Canada.
on September 3,2013 | 03:08PM
jayz43 wrote:
There must be some safe spots in one of our 57 states. Hawaii is nice, although they ARE a part of Asia.
on September 3,2013 | 03:45PM
TLehel wrote:
Don't forget Iceland. However, I actually want to go to Japan. May not be the best place to go, but seriously F this country already.
on September 3,2013 | 04:10PM
kamoae wrote:
Lets stay out of Syria and work on improving our own problems here in America!
on September 3,2013 | 01:22PM
jayz43 wrote:
Agreed. We really need to improve the quality of our education. Barry could use remedial courses, especially in geography, history and Diplomacy 101. He appears to be acting stupidly. His Punahou teachers must cringe whenever he says anything in public, he, he.
on September 3,2013 | 03:51PM
islandsun wrote:
Here we go again, gotta save the world from themselves!
on September 3,2013 | 03:40PM
false wrote:
Too bad Dennis Rodman didn't bring Barrack with him to North Korea to exchange Obama for imprisoned Kenneth Bae. Of course, Kim would have gotten the short end of that deal but the U.S. would have really made out.
on September 3,2013 | 05:12PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Hey DC guys...60% of Americans do not want involvement in Syria at all. Listen to your constituencies.
on September 3,2013 | 06:57PM
sailfish1 wrote:
It's too late - all the Syrian military facilities are now filled with innocent civilians. If the U.S. launches missiles at them, they will kill more civilians than the chemical weapons did. The U.S. will be seen as "baby killers" AGAIN (remember Vietnam) and no country in the world will respect the U.S. If you think no action will lessen confidence in the U.S., think again.
on September 3,2013 | 08:29PM
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