On Thursday evening, the Obama administration briefed 26 senior members of Congress on Syria, providing what it called "fresh evidence" of a chemical weapons attack. The 90-minute conference call ended up being unclassified because too many lawmakers couldn't get secure phone lines — not a great start, since many members of Congress have been clamoring for more information on Obama's plans and the intelligence concerning the attack.
The politics of intervention are shifting, but here's the breakdown of what members of Congress have publicly said they want to do on Syria:
Who supports a strike:
Some lawmakers were convinced by the administration's evidence that a strike is necessary. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi allegedly said during the call, "we should do something." In a statement after the briefing, she said, “it is clear that the American people are weary of war. However, [Bashar al] Assad gassing his own people is an issue of our national security, regional stability and global security." Prior to the call, Sen. Dianne Feinstein told to Time on Thursday that Obama is already doing enough to consult Congress, and that a vote may not be necessary to proceed with a strike (though she does think Obama should wait until the U.N. finishes its inspection on Saturday). She says, "I think there’s ways of doing consultations which is adequate."
Sen. John McCain thinks the U.S. should strike. He released a statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham last Sunday which read that the U.S. should "take limited military actions in Syria." Democratic Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, Republican Rep. Peter King, and Republican senators Mark Kirk and Bob Corker have also advocated for a strike in statements made over the weekend.
Who wants a congressional vote to authorize a strike:
Many Republican lawmakers and some Democrats, on the other hand, think Obama needs to consult Congress further before deciding on a strike. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat who normally supports the president, said after the call that the White House should wait on a strike, at least until the U.N. completes its inspection. He also suggested that Obama should secure more international support for a strike (which seems unlikely, as Britain's House of Commons voted against military action on Thursday). However, back in March, Levin teamed up with McCain to ask Obama to take military action against Syria. Now, he's feeling more cautious.
The numbers suggest most members of Congress at least want more consultation with the White House. Reuters reports that letters are circulating among Republicans and Democrats calling for Obama to get congressional approval for a strike. One was signed by 54 House Democrats. Another was spearheaded by Republican Rep. Scott Rigell with support of 140 House Republicans and Democrats.
Who wants more convincing from the White House:
Republican Rep. Buck McKeon, however, is concerned that Obama has really gotten himself into a mess:
The president is going to have to make his case to the American people before he takes any action. The problem that he finds himself in and has placed us in is that if he does not take action now after making these statements, then we become a paper tiger to the rest of the world.
House Majority Leader John Boehner also thinks Obama would be best served by winning over Congress before declaring military action. Sen. Jim Inhofe opposes a strike until the administration explains how the government will pay for it. "As I have said before, no red line should have even been drawn without first preparing a strategic plan and assessing our resources," Inhofe said. "The administration owes it to Congress and to the American people to lay out how they will fund their military action. Is it going to be more furloughs?"
Who opposes a strike:
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has been pretty vocal on the topic, telling Rush Limbaugh on his show on Thursday that Obama is an "out-of-control president" who can't take the time to make his case to Congress and the American public. Earlier this week, Cruz said, "The United States armed forces doesn’t exist to be a policeman of the world... I certainly hope the reaction isn't simply lobbing some cruise missiles in to disagree with Assad's murderous actions."
Sen. Rand Paul has quickly but subtly shifted his position. On Wednesday, he called for an "an open debate in Congress over whether the situation warrants U.S. involvement." On Thursday night, Paul said Obama "absolutely" needs congressional approval before a strike in Syria on Fox News. On Friday morning, Paul questioning the motives of a strike, and coming closer to outright opposition to it. He said on Fox and Friends:
"It sounds to me like saving face because he has made a promise, so he is going to follow through with his promise... That’s why you ought to be very careful about drawing lines in the sand, or red lines, because now he feels that he looks weak to both his colleagues in the United States as well as his international colleagues. I don’t think that is enough reason to go to war."
(Photos via Associated Press.)