Congress takes steps toward strike on Syria; recess cut short for hearings

Kerry, Hagel to start pushing for support

Congress’ role in approving military strikes kicks off Tuesday when Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will tell senators that the U.S. must strike at the Syrian regime to make clear that chemical weapons use will not be tolerated.

Sen. Robert C. Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the panel’s ranking Republican, announced the hearings after senators decided to use the final week of their summer recess to examine the case for action.


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“The American people deserve to hear more from the administration about why military action in Syria is necessary, what it will achieve and how it will be sufficiently limited to keep the U.S. from being drawn further into the Syrian conflict,” Mr. Corker said in a statement.

The Tuesday hearing will be followed by a closed-door meeting Wednesday that the committee has labeled “top secret.” The witnesses for that hearing have not been announced.

House members also will hold hearings, with Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He said Monday that he would call Mr. Kerry before his committee Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel answers questions from reporters during his visit at the Malacanang Palace in Manila on Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel answers questions from reporters during his visit at ... more >

“The president’s proposed military response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime demands thorough and deliberate congressional consideration,” Mr. Royce said in a statement.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on resolutions authorizing force next week after all lawmakers return from the recess.

Emerging from a private briefing with President Obama at the White House on Monday afternoon, Sen. John McCain of Arizona warned that it would be “catastrophic” if Congress rejected the resolution.


SEE ALSO: Syrians use social media to tell world: See atrocities for yourself


Mr. McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, two of the leading Republican voices in the Senate on defense matters, met with Mr. Obama as part of a series of briefings with top lawmakers of both parties ahead of the votes.

“A vote against that resolution,” Mr. McCain said, “would undermine the credibility of the United States and of the president.”

Some lawmakers pushed to return to Capitol Hill early to begin debating and hold a vote immediately, but neither their leaders nor Mr. Obama believed the matter was that urgent. Mr. Obama said this weekend that strikes will be effective whether they are conducted now or in a month.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Hagel are former senators, and indeed Mr. Kerry was once chairman and Mr. Hagel a senior member of the very committee to which they will testify.

Given that, the hearing promises to be cordial, though lawmakers have said they want to press for answers to key questions about the administration’s evidence that chemical weapons were used and about Mr. Obama’s broader strategy.

Mr. Obama is likely to have a relatively easier time making his case to the Senate. A number of senators were pushing for military action even before the Aug. 21 attacks near Damascus, where the Obama administration says chemical weapons were used.

Mr. McCain said he was “encouraged” by Monday’s briefing but said he is still not committed to voting for the resolution until next week’s debate.

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