- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Top lawmakers and President Obama emerged from their White House meeting on Tuesday on the same page regarding U.S. military action in Syria.

Leading members of Congress from both sides of the aisle said they plan to vote in favor of the president’s plan for a targeted, proportional response to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“It’s pretty clear to me that the United Nations is unlikely to take action, NATO unlikely to take action, … the use of these weapons has to be responded to, and only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters outside the White House. “This is something that the United States and the country needs to do. I’m going to support the president’s call for action. I believe my colleagues should support this call for action. We have enemies around the world that need to understand we are not going to tolerate this type of behavior.”

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Mr. Boehner’s second-in-command, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, also said he backs the president’s plan, as do House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats.

“Weapons of mass destruction — deterring their use — is a pillar of our national security. Assad has done that. That is a differentiation from what he has done up until now,” Ms. Pelosi said. “It is really something that, from a humanitarian standpoint, cannot be ignored. … From a national security standpoint, we have to send a very clear message to those who have weapons of mass destruction of any variety that they should forget about using them.”

The comments from Mr. Boehner, Ms. Pelosi and other lawmakers who attended Tuesday’s meeting represent something of a victory for the White House, which has struggled to marshal Capitol Hill support for strikes against the Syrian regime.
Indeed, the battle is shaping up to be a test between congressional leaders and their rank-and-file members, both liberal and conservative, who are more reluctant to get involved.

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Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said after the briefing at the White House that “many questions are still left unanswered.”

He urged the president to deliver an address to the entire nation laying out the full case for strikes, and a plan to ensure the U.S. role is clearly defined.

“The president needs to explain in detail what vital national interests are at stake, his plan for securing these interests and a clear definition of what success looks like in Syria,” the Texas Republican said.

Congress is set to vote next week on authorizing military action against Syria after all members return to Washington.

Mr. Obama delivered a draft resolution to Congress over the weekend, but Senate Democrats have already begun working on a replacement that will be more narrowly tailored.

Mrs. Pelosi said the scope of authority is a major topic for the House.

“There are some people who want it broader and some people want it more narrow,” she said.

Other lawmakers argued that the U.S. cannot simply bomb Syrian targets and then remove itself from the conflict. Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration must be prepared to provide more assistance to Syrian rebels, who have been outmanned and outgunned by Mr. Assad’s forces throughout the conflict.

“I think it’s critically important that the Syrians be helped to fight for themselves. They are fighting for themselves. They are dying trying to get rid of Assad,” Mr. Levin said, adding U.S. military intervention must not be “just some strike from the United States of limited duration, but this is support for the majority of Syrian people who are willing to take him on.”

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