- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2013

Faced with the most momentous foreign policy vote in years, Congress has decided on the go-slow approach, with leaders saying they will take their time in deciding whether to approve retaliatory strikes against Syria.

Senate Democrats and House Republicans, each in control of their respective chambers, won’t vote on military action on Syria until next week — taking a scheduling cue from President Obama, who, while saying Saturday that he would seek the approval of Congress, showed little urgency in demanding action.

The delay gives Mr. Obama more time to make his case for a vote that, if held now, the president might lose.

The campaign to build public and congressional support began in earnest Sunday when Secretary of State John F. Kerry blitzed the news networks to defend Mr. Obama’s decision and bolster the arguments for a strike on Syria with more details on the deadly Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.

Mr. Kerry said the latest test results from victims’ blood and hair samples prove that Syrian forces used sarin in the attack, and the former senator predicted that lawmakers in the House and Senate would back the president.

“The stakes are just really too high here,” Mr. Kerry said.

SEE ALSO: Rep. Mike Rogers: Congress will back Obama on Syria

The secretary of state made the remarks just hours before a closed-door afternoon briefing for lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Several lawmakers exiting the meeting indicated the language in the authorization resolution the president sent to Congress on Saturday is overly broad.

Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said he would appreciate a narrower resolution but indicated that he is leaning “no” in any case.

“My concern is it’s a civil war and it’s a religious war; I’m not sure it directly impacts the national security interests of the United States,” he said.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat, said the meeting was crucial in helping members make better-informed decisions.

“This has nothing to do with politics; this has everything to do with making sure an international norm that was violated by the Syrian government cannot and should not go unanswered,” she said. “This is important for America. It’s important for the world, and the deliberative process we’re going to go through is going to help strengthen our response.”

SEE ALSO: John Kerry: Evidence of nerve agent sarin in Syria

Earlier, on the Sunday talk shows, Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, backed the president’s call for action.

“I think that Congress will rise to its Article 1 constitutional responsibilities to provide for the general defense of the United States,” the Michigan Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But it’s going to take that healthy debate to get there.”

Other Republicans were not as bullish.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said prospects for approval in the Democrat-controlled Senate were good, but that there was a better-than-even chance that the Republican-led House of Representatives would say no.

“I think all of the bad things you can imagine are all more likely if we get involved in the Syrian civil war,” Mr. Paul said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said he doesn’t think Congress would approve such an authorization.

“I don’t think they will,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It may sound real easy when people like Secretary Kerry say that it’s going to be quick and we’re going to go in and send a few cruise missiles, wash our hands and go home. It doesn’t work that way.”

Most lawmakers said they appreciated the president’s decision to seek congressional approval, but some weren’t happy with the delay or with their own leaders’ decisions to wait until Sept. 9.

“I call on the speaker to immediately recall the House back from its August recess and debate this critical issue as soon as possible,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

In his White House Rose Garden speech Saturday, the president said strikes on Syria would be just as effective in several weeks as they would be now.

Soon after the president made those remarks, House Republican leaders announced that they would take up Mr. Obama’s request after returning to Washington Sept. 9.

Senate Democrats weighed in later Saturday, saying they will begin to hold hearings and ask for more briefings from the administration this week, with an eye to holding a final vote sometime next week. That puts the House and Senate on the same timetable.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said in a statement that that was the schedule Mr. Obama requested.

“This will provide ample time for a robust public debate, while ensuring that this critical issue receives a vote in a timely fashion,” Mr. Reid said.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, blasted the delay and accused the president of abdicating his responsibility by waiting for congressional approval. He said Mr. Obama has the authority as commander in chief to act against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Mr. Obama said Saturday that he believes he has that authority as well, but that going to Congress first would strengthen his case.

“If we can’t stop Syria on a red line with chemical weapons, how can anyone expect us to stop Iran with a red line on nuclear weapons?” Mr. King said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it is going to be difficult to get the vote through in Congress, especially when there’s going to be time over the next nine days for opposition to build up to it.”

Syrian officials have signaled that the extra time has given them a chance to shift military assets around, and U.S. military officials said a delay could complicate their strike plans.

But Mr. Obama said he’s consulted with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and said strikes will work whenever the U.S. gives the go-ahead.

“The chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now,” the president said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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