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Congress Not Moved by Obama's Measured Case for Syria Strike

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
President Barack Obama spoke to senators in the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of his address to the nation on the ongoing situation in Syria.

Obama also addressed concerns about some of the rebels fighting Assad linked to al-Qaida.

“Al-Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death,” Obama said. “The majority of the Syrian people, and the Syrian opposition we work with, just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.”

The president’s speech may effect public opinion, but votes in Congress are another matter. Numerous Republican lawmakers in particular have put out statements in the past few days either opposed to a strike or highly critical of the president’s approach. Immediately after the speech, few lawmakers appeared to be swayed, judging by the flurry of statements being sent out.

On MSNBC, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., made another pitch for the alternative resolution he drafted with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., that would give Syria time to give up its chemical weapons before facing a possible strike.

The president would have lost a vote on the strike authorization he has sought, Manchin suggested.

“The support is just not there,” he said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., responded with his own video ripping the president’s proposal.

“Twelve years after we were attacked by al-Qaida, 12 years after 3,000 Americans were killed by al-Qaida, President Obama now asks us to be allies with al-Qaida,” he charged. “Americans, by a large majority, want nothing to do with the Syrian civil war. We fail to see a national security interest in a war between a leader who gasses his own citizens and Islamic rebels who are killing Christians.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said he continues to lean against an authorization to use force.

“I don’t think the case for military action has been made,” he said, despite briefings at the White House, a visit from the president to the Capitol earlier Tuesday or his speech. Grassley said his concerns and those of Iowans haven’t yet been answered. “If the goal is to deter and degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, how would a limited strike achieve this goal? What are the risks of military action? What is the U.S. national interest in striking Syria?”

Of course, it remains an open question whether Congress will ever vote on a Syrian authorization given the new diplomatic effort — and what appears to be a lack of votes.

“After this impassioned plea I cannot imagine Pres Obama not launching military strike if diplomacy fails, regardless of what Congress does,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Graham, along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has led the effort to back the Syrian rebels.

In a joint statement, Graham and McCain said they regret that Obama “did not speak more forcefully about the need to increase our military assistance to moderate opposition forces in Syria, such as the Free Syrian Army.”

They also said Obama should have laid out a clear plan to test the seriousness of the Russian diplomatic proposal, preferably by bringing a resolution to a vote in the United Nations Security Council.

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