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Those on both sides of the congressional debate saw a compromise solution in Russia’s proposal to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to an international authority.

“The proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control has a great deal of merit, and unlike the planned strikes, actually would prevent chemical warfare attacks in the future,” said Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat who has said he opposes the proposed military strikes.

‘Unbelievably small’

In Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation Tuesday night from the White House, he will try to bolster a case for strikes that has been undercut by stumbles.

The most recent one was made Monday morning when Mr. Kerry said the strikes would be “unbelievably small” — seemingly contradicting Mr. Obama’s description that the strikes would degrade the Syrian regime’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Mr. Kerry’s remark was “unbelievably unhelpful.”

Mr. Carney said later that Mr. Kerry was comparing the proposed military action with the “large-scale, open-ended military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

When Mr. Blinken said last week that Mr. Obama doesn’t desire or intend to launch a strike without congressional approval, the president said his aide was wrong. Mr. Blinken said Monday that he spoke “inartfully.” Nobody has said whether Mr. Obama would act if Congress doesn’t authorize military action.